The Ashes 2013-14 January 6, 2014

Lehmann made playing for Australia fun again - Watson

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'Special feeling for everyone involved' - Watson

Like a politician brought back from the cold due to change at the top, Shane Watson is no longer an anguished voice in the Australian wilderness.

The most ardent in-house critic of the national team's former direction, Watson has added reason to feel satisfied about Australia's Ashes rampage this summer. They have come a long way since the fractious days of less than a year ago, when Watson and three others were suspended for a Test match in India as relationships with the former coach Mickey Arthur broke down.

The day after Australia completed a barely believable 5-0 sweep of England in the second of back-to-back Ashes series, Watson spoke of how Darren Lehmann had returned a sense of fun and balance to a dressing room that had become insular, intense and often unpleasant during the latter days of Arthur's tenure.

Watson did not enjoy the "high performance" direction the team culture had taken, and was not shy about saying so. As a result of this frankness, his relationship with the captain Michael Clarke suffered, and he was also stood down from the vice-captaincy. But Lehmann's appointment - and the wise medical counsel of the team doctor Peter Brukner - has allowed Watson to rehabilitate, as the team around him gathered strength in England before rumbling to the most comprehensive series triumph imaginable in Australia.

"Personally it makes it more sweet," Watson said. "To know that there were times when I knew I had to stand strong with my beliefs only for the betterment of what I thought was the amazing talent we had in the group. I certainly would never take back how I stood and voiced my opinions at certain times. I know that when there are down times, if you stand strong for long enough and persevere for long enough things might turn around and they certainly have in a way that I never expected.

"I've always had certain beliefs and I've been lucky enough to be around so many great teams, whether it was the Australian team or other teams that I've played in. I got to know most importantly that you need to be making sure you're having a lot of fun because it's a game that if you take too seriously - and I do at times, and I've always got to turn myself around - you can really get too internal and the game gets too much for you. That's what was happening in the Australian team."

Reflecting on the team room of 12 months ago, Watson said the concept of having fun and enjoying the game had been forsaken in pursuing goals that seemingly became less attainable the harder the team aspired to them. Lehmann reduced the tension in the air, while at the same time encouraging his players to be themselves. By adding perspective to the team, Watson said Lehmann had helped make the quest for the Ashes a challenge to be enjoyed rather than an all-consuming struggle to be endured.

Largely thanks to Lehmann,Watson said the reality of playing cricket for Australia now matches up to the dream of doing so. "That it was meant to be the time of your life had gone out the window," Watson said. "It was more so you had to be desperate and put every other part of your life on hold to become the best player and best team in the world instead of just getting the perfect balance, which means you're more chance of actually putting the performances on the board as a team and individually. And Darren knew that from experience and that's exactly what he implemented.

"I know how lucky I am to be involved in such a special environment because it doesn't always come along.

"It's not just something you stumble across, it's something that people do put a lot of time and effort in certain ways to be able to make sure that an environment like this is created and that's the amazing skill that Darren Lehmann has brought in. It really is an absolute pleasure to be a part of, not just the dream of playing cricket for Australia, but to actually be involved in something that is so much fun, that's the reason I started playing and why I'm playing now."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • OneEyedAussie on January 8, 2014, 2:34 GMT

    Lehmann made a good decision in England to let Shane Watson have his coveted opening bat position. It turned out it was enough rope as Watson's form was clearly not potent enough for him to retain that position. Thus ended the "Watson can only have success as an opener" saga.

    Lehmann smartly repeated the trick with moving him to no 3. Eventually, he'll hit a form slump there too and Lehmann can convince Watson that no. 6 is really the place for him.

  • Clavers on January 7, 2014, 23:12 GMT

    @Samdanh: "Australian batting cannot play quality spin?"

    When did Swann and Panesar stop being bowlers of "quality spin?" It was presumably some time after their last tour of India when they wiped the floor with Sachin & Co.

  • vik-AUS on January 7, 2014, 23:07 GMT

    South Africa will win 2-0 and Watson, Rogers, Brad and Harris will retire. Watson, Warner and George Bailey will retire from Test.

  • Biggus on January 7, 2014, 11:10 GMT

    @rickyvoncanterbury:- Just playing devil's advocate mate, not really serious. As you say though, would be fun to watch.

  • RVC-38 on January 7, 2014, 8:37 GMT

    @Biggas The mediator must not have liked my last reply I will try again, Mate your suggestion has merit, the problem I see with that is that people with 3rd day tickets get ripped off, and the Jane Mcgrath day is also day 3, but on the other hand Indians being very much in favour of playing well in all conditions know that they will never be a great team until they can master the pace and bounce and win in Australia, and in all my time we have never needed to do that against them, but geeze it would be good to watch

  • RVC-38 on January 7, 2014, 8:00 GMT

    @ Bonehead_maz on (January 7, 2014, 7:16 GMT) I have heard you can live in New South Wales and be a QLDEer and NZ, PNG, Darwin, the moon,

  • Bonehead_maz on January 7, 2014, 7:16 GMT

    As a Queensland supporter, I'd be really annoyed if Lehmann had left for any other job. Look what happened to Qld cricket when he arrived :). Look what has happened since he left :( . Should have stayed a Qlder Watto

  • Samdanh on January 7, 2014, 7:04 GMT

    Australia batting needs to be more strong in performance in overseas tours. SA can be expected to lay out dry pitches to negate the Aus pace attack and crush the Aus batting which cannot play quality spin (except perhaps Clarke and Smith to some extent) Australia needs to rest not just Siddle and Harris but also Johnson from ODIs. There are plenty of fast bowlers who could be roped in to play the ODIs with England. Also, for overseas tours it is important they take one more spinner to be used when pitches are doctored. Furhter a back up quality spinner should always be with the team to be able to play if Lyon gets injured or a second spinner is required. It is very key for Aus to use some foresight in squad composition

  • Biggus on January 7, 2014, 6:57 GMT

    @rickyvoncanterbury:- Given that we'll be accused of preparing 'Greentops' (even if they're not green) we should go the whole hog and really serve up some. You know, pitches where you can't tell the outfield from the strip. Maybe we could have our groundsmen use some 'selective watering' as well, I hear it's all the fashion on the subcontinent. A little selective watering just short of a good length on off stump should do it. We're going to be served up tripe wickets when we tour there anyway, what's to lose?

  • Thegimp on January 7, 2014, 6:26 GMT

    Come on, we all know what will happen in this upcoming series against SA.

    Graham Smith will talk it up, everyone will be running around in circles, SA will start favourites again and then they'll choke..............just history repeating over and over and over.....