Watson a bonus as Australia swamp South Africa A
Pretty much a week to the minute after Australia demolished South Africa by an innings n the first Test at the Wanderers, Steve Waugh's apparently unstoppable team repeated the dose against the South African A team, crushing the home side's second best by an innings and 41 runs at St George's Park on Sunday.
Again the Australians won inside three days and if there was not quite the intensity of a Test match about this game, their opponents wouldn't have noticed. Dewald Pretorius, the 24-year-old Free State fast bowler who has come into the reckoning for a Test place with Allan Donald now retired and Shaun Pollock's fitness still not certain, summed it up.
"In this match I learned what cricket was all about," said Pretorius. "These Aussies, they hit your bad balls."
It was a comment made with some feeling. Between them Adam Gilchrist and Shane Watson clobbered Pretorius's first 14 balls of the day for 29. Then, with fielders scattered around the edges of the boundary, Pretorius had Gilchrist caught at deep midwicket for 56 before having Brett Lee caught at slip three balls later.
For just a moment the A team might have thought they had the Australians back on their heels. Not a bit of it. Watson received enough support from the tail to thunder to a century on debut for Australia before the declaration came at 574 for nine and just over 60 overs later Australia had won the match by bowling the A team out for 232 in their second innings.
"The plan was to win in three days," Steve Waugh said afterwards. "It was a good performance to win in three days on a flat, slow wicket."
Indeed it was. Just the sort of outing to keep things ticking over ahead of next weekend's second Test with the emergence of Watson as a bonus. In Waugh's view Australia haven't had a world class all-rounder since the days of Keith Miller and Alan Davidson and Watson is being touted as a possible successor to these greats.
That, of course, remains to be seen, but some of the raw material is there. At this stage Watson's batting would seem to be his anchor discipline with his 100 not out on Sunday taking just 96 deliveries and the second 50 requiring only 34 balls. He's a big, strong boy, though, and picked up three wickets with his fast-medium pace although he still looks to be some distance away from the point where he can command a Test match place purely on the strength of his bowling.
Still, he earned a solid endorsement from his captain afterwards, with Waugh suggesting that he would not be out of place in the Test team even at this early stage. Not that Australia are likely change their team for the second Test unless someone breaks down over the next few days, but Watson will not have minded the praise.
The South African A team bowling gave little hint to the national selectors as to how Australia might be bowled out twice at Newlands.
The wicket of Lee gave Pretorius five for the innings and some reward for honest endeavour, but by his own admission Pretorius still has much to do and a return of five for 148 off 29 overs suggests that he still gives the batsmen far too much to hit at this stage of his career.
The A team's second innings never really got going after Jacques Rudolph was given out caught at the wicket off Lee in the 10th over of the innings. Graeme Smith made 31, but still looks uneasy against genuine pace; Martin van Jaarsveld was dropped by Gilchrist off Lee before he had scored and failed to make Australia pay for this by scoring only 29; Daryll Cullinan made only 19, but has probably already booked his Test place and the biggest stand of the innings was the 87 for the seventh wicket between Justin Kemp and Gulam Bodi.
Even here Bodi was dropped twice in making 45 and it was left to Kemp to top score with 56. With Lance Klusener out of the reckoning, Kemp might be eyeing an all-rounder's place in the Test side, but he has looked uneasy at the highest level when given opportunities in the past and South Africa should be looking at a specialist batsman to come in at number six.
Stuart MacGill took four for 114 in the second innings, but he spent a lot of time bowling full tosses and long hops and even if Newlands is as dry and dusty as Cullinan seems to think it might be, it would be a major surprise if Australia chose to field two spinners in the second Test.
The South African Test team is to be announced on Monday as is the Australian one-day squad. For different reasons the selectors of both countries have had a lot of thinking to do over the past few days, but although Australia might have some tough decisions to make, the task facing their South African counterparts is unquestionably the more difficult.