Australia in Sri Lanka 2011 September 4, 2011

The new and improved Shane Watson

Armed with reverse-swing, suffocating accuracy and a pace only mildly above medium, Shane Watson has transformed into a Test bowler of international class

Shane Watson has evolved into a Test bowler of international class by delivering the sort of stuff his younger self would have scoffed at. "Too slow," the young Watson might have said, or "too boring". Too good, in fact.

In the first Test against Sri Lanka, aided by a devilish Galle pitch, Watson returned match figures of 5 for 30 from 19 overs, splintering the hosts' middle order with a trio of lbws in the first innings then nabbing the critical wicket of Kumar Sangakkara with a brute of a ball in the second.

He did it all with shrewd reverse-swing, suffocating accuracy and at a pace only mildly above medium, far removed from the faster but ramrod straight offerings he first exhibited for Australia. Watson now admits a more measured approach in his early days as an allrounder might have resulted in his avoiding the surfeit of injuries that seemed to have stunted his playing career.

"I was trying to bowl at 170kph. And I got nowhere near it," Watson said. "As a younger guy growing up, I just wanted to bowl as fast as I possibly could because that's what I thought would get me success. Unfortunately I didn't really move the ball off the square, and all I did was angle the ball in, so it wasn't that effective.

"I have learnt from my mistakes in the past. If I had my time again I probably would have been smarter at how I approached my bowling. I now realise how important moving the ball is and it would have made a little bit of difference on my body, as a younger guy, if I was a little bit smarter in how I bowled.

"There was a period of time when my body didn't allow me to bowl 100% every ball. I realised physically I couldn't do it so I had to find another way to be effective and in the end its worked out better. I have had more success: I have been able to move the ball and conserve my body a bit."

Watson mark II first began to emerge for Australia on the 2008 Test tour of India. The visitors spent eight weeks in the country without winning a single match, but Watson's use of reverse-swing far outstripped that of any of his fellow bowlers. He has continually worked on the art ever since.

"It probably comes easier to me than some of our other bowlers," Watson said. "I think it really comes down to a bit of luck at my release point, to be able to get the seam in the right position and how I release the ball. My action helps.

"Reverse-swing can play a big part; this was probably not as flat a wicket as I have bowled on but on a normal flat wicket, if the ball is reversing, it can make [batting] difficult. It gives me an added dimension."

Missing from Watson's game in the first Test was a significant score, as he was spun out in the first innings and then victim of a questionable choice of stroke in the second. An admirably frank character, Watson is happy to agree that he is less likely to be as effective with the ball in matches where he has batted for a long period.

"I suppose it depends whether I get runs," Watson said. "I didn't get any runs this match so I had to try and have some impact and input into the game. Sometimes it's not always going to be my day with the bat and that's the great thing about being an allrounder.

"I knew in this game I was going to be quite fresh because I didn't get any runs. I knew I would have plenty in the tank to have a crack at bowling."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Christopher on September 7, 2011, 4:52 GMT

    @VivGilchrist and @Meety.his innings of 185* and his ability to hit sixes,was BECAUSE it was against Bangladesh.The same approach against better teams is unlikey to succeed,which i believe is the point that @Meety is trying to make.Its a topic simply because he is class player who fails to convert.Its frustrating for those fans left wondering about his apparent mental lapses.This innings is relevent,because,even though conditions were testing,it demonstrates the speed of his fatiguing.He bowled seven overs, but his batting took up only 96 balls.50 from 26..100 from 69..150 from 83..Last 35 from 16.He described being too tired to run,yet the Australian innings lasted only 26 overs just over half the alloted time.It fits nicely with his Test average innings duration,of 40 runs S/R 50-80 balls, or an hour and a half to two hours. As for Bradmans example,his body stayed cool and fresh better than anyones,allowing him to retain his concentration and be sharp,every ball of every innings.

  • Andrew on September 7, 2011, 0:05 GMT

    @VivGilchrist - I get your point, but Watto has been made vice captain & is the primary allrounder in the side. I think there are things he needs to work on, as I said previously below, he is a valuable commodity, something Oz have searched for 50years. On Haddins form with the bat, he was our 2nd best batsmen against the Poms, whilst in this Test his 1st innings dismissal was soft, the 2nd innings he got a ripper early.

  • Basil on September 6, 2011, 7:40 GMT

    @meety and hyclass, I'm not interested enough to buy too much into your arguement but it does seem to be a reoccurring topic that pops up. I just can't help but think that Watto is probably the most valuable player Australia has, and if he's going to score the bulk of 185 runs by hitting sixes because he's fatigued batting in hot conditions, so be it. Why don't we find some real problems like Haddins current form with the bat? I'm sure he wouldn't mind making 185 hitting sixes because he's too tired to run.

  • Andrew on September 6, 2011, 6:55 GMT

    @hyclass - agree to disagree, although the Bradman example sort of backs my arguement more - LOL!

  • Christopher on September 6, 2011, 3:50 GMT

    @Meety...lets agree to disagree. I try to use evidence first and work theories to fit facts, rather than facts to fit theories. I then look for further validating evidence. In my estimation, the theory that best fits all the facts is physical deterioration causing mental deterioration. His comments in this article and after his 185* against Bangladesh seem to support it. More importantly, his Test record strongly suggests it. Kallis and Flintoff are both naturally bigger men whose stamina is a consequence of their natural size. Watsons size has been due to his physical training regime which drains the body far faster. It must be remembered that it was Bradman who believed that there were batsmen around him, equally capable of performing at his level. He attributed their relative failure to a lack of concentration. It was the SA captain who pointed with astonishment to Bradmans lack of sweating and freshness while making 299* in 40 degrees. People fatigue differently. Watson is faster.

  • Andrew on September 6, 2011, 2:25 GMT

    @hyclass - a couple of other points (supporting mental v physical) is; 1. Drops his shoulders when the going gets tough (he seems to be improving a bit with this), 2. Never seems to accept when he is out or rather thinks he is unlucky to be given out, ( a couple of times he's been plum LBW - reviewed only to be proven plumb). Again not game aware. BTW - I am actually a fan of Watto's, he does need to eventually drop down to the order, but he is an absolute precious commodity as is!

  • Andrew on September 6, 2011, 2:20 GMT

    @hyclass - its a bit chicken or the egg stuff re: Watto's fitness IMO. I think his problem is mental - I understand that you have put a good arguement that it is physical fitness affecting his mental. IMO far bigger blokes can run far further for longer periods than Watto in other sports, so I discount the metabolism aspect, (acknowledging that most of those sports are Winter sports v a Summer sport). I would estimate that Kallis & Flintoff were/are bigger than Watto. Also I'd argue that Watto fields in the slips mainly & so is not subject to the same rigours as often as other players. To me its purely mental. In ODI's - if he fields first, he still gets about 40 minutes to put his feet up before he comes out to bat, yet his ODI opening ave is halved when batting 2nd. I think he makes poor decisons (run-outs), that are not game aware, that don't sit with me as being physical fatigue. Its why I don't want the burden of captaincy placed on him. When he works himself out - watch out!!!

  • Randolph on September 6, 2011, 2:19 GMT

    @Hasnain Sarfraz, Flintoff was rubbish. He had one good series against us and suddenly he's god, what a joke. As @ponting164 showed when he check-mated @OhhhhMattyMatty, Watto is far better than Flintoff ever was, and Flintoff was only in the England team because they had zero depth!!!

  • Daniel on September 6, 2011, 1:38 GMT

    When Watson was playing in junior rep sides in Australia, he batted at 4 and bowled second or third change. The closer that he gets to that role for Australia, the better he looks. He was never a Flintoff-type all-rounder and he failed when he tried to play that role. He was always more of a Kallis type, albeit a more attacking batsman than Kallis. Long term, I think he is more of a Trevor Goddard type in that he opens the batting and averages well without scoring a lot of centuries and then chips in with plenty of vital wickets. Maybe one day, we'll be talking about Watson-type all-rounders.

  • Christopher on September 6, 2011, 0:01 GMT

    I recall derision,when i first thought Watson to be a better Test bowler,than batsman.Many took it as an affront.It wasnt.I see times have changed.The point to be derived from Watsons comments are how very little stamina he has.The high probability remains,that his mental lapses when batting,are a consequence of a very fast metabolism fatiguing his body quickly and as a consequence,his mind.At 30,thats hardly likely to change and Watson should be accepted as an outstanding player who works with a body of limited endurance. How limited? The evidence suggests less than a session.He averages 40 at a S/R of 50 in Tests.Thats 80 balls for every 40.A Test session has 30 overs or 180 balls.His innings follow a pattern.He races to between 20 and 30.Loses energy.Slows and is out to a poorly executed attacking stroke between 30 and 60.His record shows 2 centuries with multiple dropped catches each.His superior ODI record can be attributed to the different field settings used improving his S/R.

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