Watson revels in freedom to attack
Shane Watson will play his 50th Test on Boxing Day but there's no need to watch old footage or trawl through scorecards to work out what kind of Test cricketer he has been. Just watch his dismissal at the WACA and two minutes either side, for there could be no more accurate microcosm of Watson's nine years in and out of the Test team. Instinctive at the crease, inward-looking, incredulous at his dismissal, interviewed. The ins and outs of Shane Watson.
This time, though, he had a hundred to his name. Yes, the pressure was off. Yes, he had a licence to slog. But having made two tons in his first 83 Test innings, Watson will take whatever hundreds he can. No player has frustrated Australian fans more over the past decade. No player has frustrated Shane Watson more over the past decade. This is a man who knows his potential - and knows he hasn't realised it.
Injuries have played their part - Michael Clarke has managed twice as many Tests as Watson in roughly the same time - but so has performance. Watson is a batsman first and foremost, but has survived averaging mid-30s in Test cricket due to bowling. Now, he is the Test No.3, and he knows that again he has underperformed - in the first two Tests in this series, when the campaign had to be set up, he had limited impact.
Here, he had the freedom to attack, and trusted his instincts. He deposited Graeme Swann for four sixes more or less down the ground, and cleared the boundary once off James Anderson too. This was the limited-overs Watson wearing whites. It was, he later said, the most fun he had ever had batting in a Test match. It ended with arguably the most embarrassing dismissal he has ever had in Test cricket.
Watson tried to attack Tim Bresnan and sent a top edge high, so high that the batsmen could nearly have run two by the time it reached earth. But Watson was so consumed with his own disappointment that he lost all awareness of what was going on around him. Ian Bell, coming in from short cover, muffed the catch, and Watson had barely taken two steps, let alone two runs. His partner George Bailey was through for one already. Bresnan threw down the stumps at the bowler's end, and Watson was dropped and run out off the same ball.
It is not unusual to see Watson strike and forget to take the available single simply because he is disappointed he has not found the boundary. This was a similar scenario, but it cost him his wicket. Embarrassed as he was - he said he didn't want his baby son Will ever to see the footage of his dismissal - he was in front of Channel Nine's cameras on the boundary almost immediately after walking off the field, owning up to a schoolboy error.
Watson is a rarity among modern cricketers, happy to front the media, and too honest for his own good when he does. His adamance that he wanted to open in the Test side last summer was seen as a white-anting of the incumbent Ed Cowan, but it was just Watson being honest when asked the question. If his batting is blunt, his answers are often blunter.
"I haven't scored as many runs as I would have liked," Watson said after his 103 in Perth. "I haven't really capitalised on my really good days. Great players capitalise on their good days and go on and make the most of their starts to go on and get a big score. That's something I haven't done in my career."
Watson's highest Test score, his 176 at The Oval in August, was followed by an admission that it meant little as the series was dead. That was the first Test century an Australian had made at No.3 since 2011. Now Watson has a second. Whether he can remain at No.3 remains to be seen. But whatever the case, Watson knows there is a long, long way to go to fulfil his Test batting potential.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here