Australia v England, 3rd Test, Perth, 4th day December 16, 2013

Watson revels in freedom to attack

Shane Watson described his freewheeling hundred against England in Perth as the most fun he had ever had in a Test match

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

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  • Rufus_Fuddleduck on December 17, 2013, 5:27 GMT

    Considering the state of the match - England having stayed there for 100 overs, likely to get to the highest innings total in the match - one suppose the Australians could all be slightly more grateful to Watson and Bailey.

  • OneEyedAussie on December 17, 2013, 2:21 GMT

    Watson hasn't played anywhere near enough first class cricket in the past few years. His long-form play in the past 3-4 years has consisted almost solely in test match cricket. Meanwhile, he has played many innings for Australia in limited overs competitions and for various t20 franchises. It's hard to expect someone to excel in long-form cricket when they are not prepared for it - especially someone like Watson who is already handicapped by concentration issues.

  • electric_loco_WAP4 on December 17, 2013, 2:13 GMT

    Well he did enjoy hitting a poor Eng attack all over and has succeeded buy self some more time/tests in Aus team . Handy knock though.

  • Sir_Francis on December 17, 2013, 1:29 GMT

    What this innings proves is that Watson should be at No. 6. Only!

    Disappointed Bailey didn't inform Watson to wake up and run. Both players culpable in the dismissal. I guess it wasn't important though.

  • cricket_ahan on December 17, 2013, 1:12 GMT

    I think it's quite clear that Watson is not a top-order test batsman. Stats don't ALWAYS tell the whole story I agree, but they do ring true in most cases, especially for a top order player. Watson has neither brilliant stats nor any memorable accolades of winning Australia matches that he can boast about. And 50 tests (spread over the same time as Clarke's 100) is enough time for a player at this level to prove himself. So when people criticise Watson for not performing, it is not anecdotal, nor is it without evidenciary support. In fact, those supporting his potential to deliver are the ones who need to provide a solid case. From all angles, he has not hit the mark. His bowling is handy I agree, but his batting ability, for mine, can be likened to Shahid Afridi, blistering on its day, but nowhere near a bankable prospect. He needs to play as a bowling all-rounder or not at all - at least as far as Test cricket is concerned.

  • Clavers on December 17, 2013, 0:51 GMT

    @CricketMaan: I would ask Ian Chappell why, if "Your best batsman plays at No. 3" he didn't swap places in the batting order with little brother Greg.

  • xtrafalgarx on December 16, 2013, 23:47 GMT

    Watson's career stats don't read that well as a bastman. As an allrounder they are good, also, we should remember that he has only been at no.3 for 4 tests, and has scored 2 hundreds there. He is 32 now, but i think he has it in him to play for 4/5 more years i reckon. If you look at the ages that a lot of players are now retiring at, Tendulkar and Dravid in their 40's, Kallis is 38 and still playing, Punter and Huss retired at 37/38 odd.

    So if Watson and Johnson alike, who are both 32 and both have under achieved, can play for 4/5 more years, that's more than enough time to make up for missed opportunities, especially if it's as part of a successful side.

  • Kolpak1989 on December 16, 2013, 23:43 GMT

    Anyone who thinks that this innings didn't matter is kidding themselves. The pressure was off Watson because Australia had a first innings lead and Warner and Rogers put up a fantastic opening stand, but there was still a job to do and Watson was the one who stood up and set the tempo from the fourth ball of the day, making that the worst session for England cricket in living memory. Watson's aggression also allowed Bailey to score freely and Clarke to declare with plenty of time to bowl England out. Well played Watto. More please.

  • JoshFromJamRock on December 16, 2013, 23:26 GMT

    I think I can understand the sticky situation with Watson. He is an ideal #5 or #6 in test matches but if he is moved down now Clarke would have to bat too early as he doesn't like coming in during the first 25 overs where him might get bogged down. Clarke is aggressive by nature and coming in early (despite his great form and class) leaves him vulnerable to fishing for the ball outside off. The same would apply more so with Bailey and Smith as neither are good players of the new/swinging ball and would be best used when batting between over 40 and 80 of the innings to up the run rate when necessary.

    My Opinion: Let him stay for now. Once the openers settle and Bailey and Smith cement their spots, Watson (if "allrounder" fit and still valuable taking wickets) can move down to #6. After all, only Flintoff and Kallis have been better seam-bowling allrounders in the past decade as he's way better than Sammy and the recently retired Collingwood.

  • brisCricFan on December 16, 2013, 22:53 GMT

    @landl47; Hate to say this, but I am about to agree with you... now I need to go cut out my tongue (chop off my fingers on this occasion)... I said yesterday England finally landed a blow to Australia by allowing Watson to make runs... now we will be stuck with him until after the 2015 WC on the back of one irrelevant innings that called for him to play in the ODI style that we all know he possesses... Rogers and Watson out for Boxing Day... Hughes definitely then not sure about a Watson replacement... but anyone is better...

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