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Watson sizzles in familiar role

All-star of the match

Shane Watson made plenty of starts in the recently concluded Pakistan Super League, and averaged 41.37 in the last edition of the Big Bash League. These performances followed a 2017 season where he averaged 17.69 with the bat - the worst T20 season of his career with a minimum of five games played.

That change in fortune has corresponded with his move back up the order. In the BBL, he batted at No. 3 for Sydney Thunder and in the PSL, he opened in every game for Quetta Gladiators. He has been batting in familiar territory after a lengthy, tiresome stint in a failing Royal Challengers middle order last year.

There was no doubt that if he did play for Chennai Super Kings - and there was enough before the season to suggest he wasn't a favourite to start - he would be batting right at the top. And after a few starts in the IPL as well, the Watson of old surfaced against his team of old.

There were some telling changes in his game on Friday night from the one he used to play when he was belting it around for Rajasthan Royals in the early IPL years. For one, he made 35 runs behind the wicket, often using the depth of the crease to caress slower balls fine on either side. For another, he made 43 runs through the off side, which he wasn't known to prefer in his early days.

Yet, the signs of a true Watson innings were still implanted across this innings. He his most of his boundaries in the region between midwicket and long-on and was ruthless against the short ball.

It could be the freedom of knowing he has a spot nailed, the calmness of a man who understands things couldn't be worse than last year or it could be that there is still plenty left in the tank whose potential Australia had backed for so many years. Whatever it was, it was a visual treat.

Wow moment

The first sign that it was Watson's day came when he was dropped in the first over. It was followed soon after by the first sign that Watson was going to take full control. Jaydev Unadkat's third over was when it happened. The pattern was simple - dot, dot, six. Two cycles of that.

The first six was a delightful loft over extra cover, with a high elbow and full balance on his back knee. It was a remarkable shot because Unadkat had made it clear already that he would be digging some offcutters in on a good length.

The second six was a lot less complicated. A short ball at his chest and Watson's fluid movement - hips swiveling, elbows coming in from under the ball, feet pivoting towards midwicket - helped him swat a flat six off the back foot.

The numbers

  • Watson hit a boundary against all bowlers other than Shreyas Gopal.

  • Watson is now tied in third place for most centuries in the IPL. He has made three, alongside AB de Villiers and David Warner. Only Virat Kohli (4) and Chris Gayle (6) have made more

  • This was Watson's fastest T20 century. He got it off 51 balls to beat his previous-best of 57 balls against Kolkata Knight Riders in 2015

Quotes

"And all of us say T20 is a young man's game. Well, Really? 'Not at all my son' says Watson. It was Gayle the other day and @ShaneRWatson33 today. 'Watto' Player @ChennaiIPL #CSKvRR"
Hemang Badani, on Twitter