Australia v England, 3rd Test, Perth, 4th day

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

Brydon Coverdale

December 16, 2013

Comments: 27 | Text size: A | A
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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.

Shane Watson took on Graeme Swann during the first hour, Australia v England, Test, Perth, 4th day, December 16, 2013
Shane Watson said he had never had more fun batting in a Test match © Getty Images

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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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by 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.

Posted by 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.

Posted by 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.

Posted by 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.

Posted by 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.

Posted by 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.

Posted by 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.

Posted by 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.

Posted by 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.

Posted by 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...

Posted by jmcilhinney on (December 16, 2013, 22:49 GMT)

Watson won't always have the freedom to attack and that's the issue. He has succeeded twice recently when the pressure was off but hasn't done much when he had to knuckle down. That is definitely not a description of a Test #3.

Posted by   on (December 16, 2013, 22:38 GMT)

all I see is a load of people complaining about how Watson only performs when the match is over. The fact of the matter is that he has scored more centuries in this series than all the English batsmen put together, and runs are runs.

Posted by jb633 on (December 16, 2013, 21:40 GMT)

Cheap runs made yet again. I still think Aus would be better served throwing a youngster in at number 3 for the next two tests. Against good sides in difficult conditions he will always be found wanting.

Posted by ScottStevo on (December 16, 2013, 21:10 GMT)

I don't see how you can claim 'it doesn't really matter' in the 3rd test. Last time I counted, 2 wins doesn't secure the Ashes for Australia. Even more admirable was the fact that both he and Bailey, in need of scores, were willing to throw caution to the wind for the team cause. It's well known we'd all love to see more from Watson, however, mocking him after making a blazing century is rather petty. We asked for runs, he just delivered. Also, even though he himself stated it, I disagree when he states that his century at the Oval was made in vain. Any test match between Australia and England holds weight, especially when Aus were absolutely desperate to notch up a win. So I don't see why it's devalued in any way...

Posted by __PK on (December 16, 2013, 21:08 GMT)

People doubting Watson's courage/technique should look at the figures. This man gets consistent starts at number 3. That means early first wicket, team in trouble, the last thing they want is a quick tumble of wickets, thank god you can rely on Watson to last until nearly lunch. RELY on him. Yes, it's nice to get 100's, but it's much better to be able to RELY on a number 3 not to fail.

Posted by hotsaif on (December 16, 2013, 21:03 GMT)

Watto is a champion,2 champions trophy,a world cup and many tournaments he has won for australia! He has been scoring 50s in the test matches as well,see the 2009 ashes or 2011!he has been consistent with 50s so what if he does not score centuries often!he can bowl too! Guy is too good to be dropped in any formats If not for injuries and a reasonable late start to his career he would have been right there wit the likes of sachin ponting and gilchrist

Posted by VivGilchrist on (December 16, 2013, 20:49 GMT)

I have never seen anyone criticized so much for scoring a century. Landl47, another backhanded compliment? That makes 1,375 for the year!

Posted by landl47 on (December 16, 2013, 17:51 GMT)

Once again Watson succeeds when it really doesn't matter. Let's see him make a century when Australia's backs are to the wall and the series depends on it. When the series is already lost (The Oval this year) or quick runs are needed to increase an already insurmountable lead, Watson's your man. When the going gets tough, Watson is nowhere to be found.

Posted by IAMGOD on (December 16, 2013, 17:40 GMT)

I am not convinced about Watson ... Made centuries when the series is/was over. Looks like he can score only when the situation requires him to be carefree/ODI mode.He doesn't have the technique/patience to guts it out.. I can't think of any his innings where he faced 200+ deliveries and scored tough runs in an important match! That's a huge hole for a guy with about 5+ years of Test career and at #3.

This Australian team still have to sort out #3 & #6 in their batting line up. If they don't find a stable order in the next 2-3 years, they are going to struggle after Clarke's exit. They will always be a dangerous team because of their bowling attack... but just like England.. they will eventually break down if their batting collapses (like it did in England this July)

I would rather have a fledgling Phil Hughes back at #3... Still think he was unfairly dropped despite a courageous 60 odd inning in the first test in England..

Posted by Matt. on (December 16, 2013, 16:52 GMT)

Too little too late, this guy isn't a test batsman. At the beginning of a series, in the 1st innings, that's when we need someone to stand up and score a century. That guy is never Shane Watson. His bowling will surely be missed but you can't pick a top 6 batsman based on their bowling ability, the bowling has to be a bonus. If Jaques Kallis stopped scoring runs for a couple of years, he would be dropped

Posted by mike.iz on (December 16, 2013, 16:48 GMT)

@Beertjie. He has to bat in the top order he has done it all his career FC level & Aus and has got success. I don't think he has ever got a 100 batting lower than 5. All his100s have some in the top 3 in tests with Avg over 40. But 4 100s in 49 tests doestmake all that good reading but oflates he has been scoring pretty well.He bats a bit like KP some one who can take the attack apart. Good technique with power & timing stuff a no.3 needs.He failed miserably Vs Ind when he batted @ 4. He hasn't got the game to tackle the quality spinners.Also hes a boundary hitter so the new ball helps. N0.6 is for an all-rounder and Watson can never be that with his body. Plus who going to bat @ 3 Hughes, S.March, Dolan or Burns doesn't strike fear like a Watson would(owing to his one day powers) But 2 100s in his last 4 tests @ 3 its pretty good. Lets see how he finishes off the series and how he does in SA

Posted by Beertjie on (December 16, 2013, 16:22 GMT)

Can't agree, @mike.iz on (December 16, 2013, 15:46 GMT). His value to the team would be best realized at #6 in place of Bailey. But his "inward-looking" feature prevents him from doing what is best for the team, so this absurd game of musical chairs in batting positions continues.

Posted by David_Bofinger on (December 16, 2013, 16:04 GMT)

Theory: Once upon a time it was hard to build great innings from late in the order because you quickly ran out of partners. So the best batsman had to bat at 3. But today the tail enders are so much better that a strong batsman can reasonably bat lower down. Chappell is from the era of weak tails.

Posted by mike.iz on (December 16, 2013, 15:46 GMT)

Awesome knock By Shane Watson.He hit the ball so clean today it was just brilliant to watch.Just an extensions of his shots no slogs pure power. Perfect blend of power and timing. The fact that he had the freedom to play and attack helped him because he is top limited overs player. But what need to be kept in mind is the work he did last night the 29* that he fought hard for getting used to the pitch and conditions. It's great to be aggressive like this and have the freedom (but this wont be the cases all the time) .So the formula he should look to is to get his eye in 1st before going on the attack (he has been playing some loose drives lately). His strength is scoring on the leg side and straight he should stick to these in tests with so many catches behind in tests. IF he shows this same intent with the right shot selection & application hes going to score loads of runs in tests.He NOW seems more free with his new technique 2 100s in his last 4 tests @ no.3 things are looking good.

Posted by ThinkingCricket on (December 16, 2013, 15:24 GMT)

@ CricketMaan: Why should anyone accept such a hideously random and insulting generalization. It's also very bad practice and a wrong message to send to your team. The best batsman bats wherever he feels most comfortable; Tendulkar was a No.4, Sehwag opened, Cook, Pietersen and Bell all bat elsewhere (though examples really miss the point. I am glad Boof is beyond such traditional viewpoints which have no logic behind them.

Posted by ScottStevo on (December 16, 2013, 14:53 GMT)

I feel for Watson. He knows he hasn't achieved anywhere near his potential, and really hasn't got enough time to ever realise it. On top of his numerous injuries, the whole spat with Arthur seriously disrupted him and he, unjustly IMHO, came out of the saga as public enemy number 1. It's this unrealised potential that makes it worse for him as we're expecting so much from his talents. The reality is, Watson has all the talent and skill to be a good batsman, just needs to get the head game sorted. The ease in which he opened in Eng in 09 when Aus were up agaisnt it proved he can do it, albeit without going on to make big scores. At times, it's almost as if when he gets to around 50 he's thinking, "I got this" and turns off. It's frustrating for all of us. But at the moment, we need him. He adds the right balance to our side as we have a genuine top 6 batsman (on his day) who can bowl - and very well at times. Also, Faulkner is NOT his replacement, he is a bowler.

Posted by CricketMaan on (December 16, 2013, 14:24 GMT)

Ian Chappell always has said 'Your best batsman plays at No.3' i guess boof does not accept that! Looking around the world there was Dravid, Ponting and Kallis recently at No.3 all legendary and there is Amla, Sanga and even Trott who has owned that slot for some time. There is so much expected out of many other No.3s going around in the world including Pujara..but Aus chose Watto. He is no legend and neither the best in that linepu..but it is he who has been chosen. Wonder what Ian will have to say about that.

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Brydon CoverdaleClose
Brydon Coverdale Assistant Editor Possibly the only person to win a headline-writing award for a title with the word "heifers" in it, Brydon decided agricultural journalism wasn't for him when he took up his position with ESPNcricinfo in Melbourne. His cricketing career peaked with an unbeaten 85 in the seconds for a small team in rural Victoria on a day when they could not scrounge up 11 players and Brydon, tragically, ran out of partners to help him reach his century. He is also a compulsive TV game-show contestant and has appeared on half a dozen shows in Australia.
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