The Investec Ashes 2013 June 27, 2013

Watson travels back to the future

Shane Watson is back opening the batting again as Australia's new coach Darren Lehmann reverts to the thinking favoured by a past captain, Ricky Ponting

If Australian cricket is moving forward under Darren Lehmann, then Shane Watson is hurtling enthusiastically back in time. Commissioned by Lehmann to revert to the opening role he excelled in from 2009 to 2011, Watson has pointed to his time under the captaincy of Ricky Ponting as the "blueprint" for his Test match future, as a reliable batsman, change bowler and durable member of the national team.

Upon Ponting's exit from the captaincy in April 2011, his successor Michael Clarke had charted a rather different role for Watson, making greater use of his bowling while shuffling him around the batting order.

But two years of decreasing returns and increasing unrest in the team left Lehmann to conclude that Watson had to be returned to his former post. The evidence of Watson's appreciation for the chance was written all over his sparkling 90 against Somerset at Taunton.

"That's the blueprint for me anyway, how Ricky used me when I was opening the batting, which worked nicely over that period of time," Watson said. "I was able to get through a lot of cricket without too many injuries, so hopefully I can get that period of time back again and get through a lot of cricket without too many injuries.

"The time when I did open the batting in Test cricket was the most success I'd had physically to be able to hold it together for a period of time so that does bring back good memories of that period of time when I was able to stay on the field and contribute with the ball whenever I could, predominantly being an opening batsman which certainly does excite me.

"Certainly opening the batting means I can't bowl too much which has worked for me in the past. Bowling wise I know I can contribute and that's why I do love bowling, but opening means I won't bowl as much as where I might if I was batting four especially. The balance worked previously so hopefully it can work again."

As an opener Watson can pose a genuine threat to England's high class pace attack, as much for his enthusiastic attitude to the task as his mechanical, repeatable technique. At his worst Watson can look a tad robotic, but his fundamentals and certainty around off stump are of the kind that will allow him to not only blunt the new ball but punch it to the boundary. Moreover, he is likely to be set by the time spin is resorted to.

"Being able to take on the quicks with the brand new ball, I never knew how much I'd enjoy that until I got the opportunity in the last Ashes series here in 2009," Watson said. "Ricky Ponting gave me the opportunity through the middle of that Ashes series and it's certainly something that I did and do love. I feel my game and mentality is really suited to opening the batting. It's nice to get the opportunity again to take on the English quicks.

"Coming into playing spin as well at times means I've got a little bit of batting under my belt instead of at times batting at No. 4 going in against spin. Certainly I find it easier to get things going facing the fast bowlers.

"So that alone and then not from the bowling perspective as well means my bowling workloads are reduced opening the batting, which they were when I did that previously so that worked out well at that stage so hopefully that can happen again."

Watson lauded Lehmann's frankness, something he had first encountered when teammates for Australia in the earliest years of the allrounder's long yet so far unfulfilled international career. "I know the way Darren operates and he certainly doesn't beat around the bush, he tells it how it is and that's a great thing," he said. "In my experiences with Darren playing with him and against him he certainly is very upfront, but he also does care when he needs to as well.

"It is black and white in a really good way, so it's nice for him to know I've got the backing of the coach to open. It's something I've been excited about to get that opportunity, and for that to be confirmed is a great thing."

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Paul on June 28, 2013, 23:09 GMT

    Common sense has finally prevailed. You bat your best batsmen in their best positions to maximise performance. Since November 2011, Mickey Arthur and Michael Clarke were dreaming of having an Aussie version of Jacques Kallis. The funny part was Clarke batted at 4 during the 2010-11 Ashes campaign and failed. When Clarke was appointed captain, he nominated the number 5 position as his best position; Hussey at 6 and Ponting at 4. But, he stuffed around with Shane Watson's career and confidence by asking him to be an allrounder when his stint as an opener from 2009-2011 launched his test career.

  • Ramana on June 28, 2013, 17:57 GMT

    I used to think Watson was Aus's answer to Jacque Kallis. But the gap has really become too wide now. Kallis has performed solidly for 16 yrs on the trot, rite from his debut. I hope Watson gets into that kind of consistency. He's doesn't hv much time.... But he can pull it all together, he can beat the English. So, go Aus !!

  • Amith on June 28, 2013, 14:36 GMT

    Watson, Rogers, Khawaja, Clarke, Hughes, Warner, Haddin, Siddle, Starc, Pattinson, Lyon - lock this lineup for the first test.

  • Sagar on June 28, 2013, 6:52 GMT

    If Cowan and Watson open come 10th of July, that leaves the number 5 and 6 position to be filled in by openers, Rogers, Hughes and Warner. I wonder why this squad has so many openers! Henriques did look confident against spin in India. We could have also had a Ferguson in our squad. It is all right to say that the best batsmen should play and not worry about their positions. It would have been best to test the likes of Henriques and Ferguson in the same warm up match as Hughes and Rogers at those batting positions.

  • Dummy4 on June 28, 2013, 6:35 GMT

    Good move by Lehmann first up... He had to get Watson's issue right and he has made a good strategic move by sending him back to the opening slot which he seems to enjoy... even in t20 matches, Watto has seen much success at the top of the order and hope it pays off this time too... he is too good an all rounder to be lost to injuries and controversies! Guess Warner will find it tough to make it to the playing XI... My team will be Watson, Cowan, Rogers, Khawaja, Clarke, Wade/Haddin, Faulkner, Starc, Harris, Siddle and Bird

  • GeoffreysMother on June 28, 2013, 5:52 GMT

    Why is whosters comment not highlighted? An astute commentary from someone actually at the game, as opposed to one who picks Rodgers to bat at 2 and 6. I know these comments are skewed towards home audiences but most of us are interested in genuine insight rather than personal preferences of batting orders .

  • Jessee on June 28, 2013, 5:46 GMT

    I used to be a fan of Cowan's unfortunately he hasn't lived up to his potential in test cricket, same with Starc, I think the potential is there but he needs a few more sessions with Wasim Akram. I'd take Rogers, Watson, Warner, Hughes, Clarke, Haddin, Faulkner, Harris, Pattinson, Bird, Lyon into the next warm up game.

  • Dummy4 on June 28, 2013, 5:25 GMT

    I think Micky Arthur sacked is a blessing in disguise for Australia, gut feeling says Aussies will be launching all guns blazing attack. Watch out poms!

  • Siva on June 28, 2013, 5:08 GMT

    @bobagorof, very well put. And I also think that this is his last chance, if he doesn't survive this he might be ousted for good.

  • Harvey on June 28, 2013, 4:49 GMT

    A score against a county bowling attack with no test bowlers doesnt mean much