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
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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

  • Mary_786 on June 28, 2013, 1:36 GMT

    I am glad to seesignificant improvement overall in the batting performance with boof there, even though it was on a flat wicket. We could get 400 for the first time in a long while in the first innings given they are 4 for 266 with Hughes and Haddin well set.Its obvious that Boof has instilled more confidence and determination in the squad. Watson looked fantastic in the highlights I saw. I like that Khawaja is at 3 as he is our best option at that position. I am thinking we will have Watson and Rogers opening in the first test, Khawaja at 3, Clarke at 4, Rogers at 5 and Hughes at 6. We are beginning to look like they want to win. Of course its very early days and this is not a test match. But there is a sense of more purpose and resolve in the side.

  • jacoblrfc on June 27, 2013, 22:27 GMT

    Agree totally with @whoster, i was also at Taunton today, and will be again tomorrow. The Aussies batted with authority and aggression; with some top quality stroke playing from most batsmen. There were a few chances given (particularly by Hughes and Khawaja) where flashing blades edged over and through the slips. If these chances were all taken, it would have been interesting as to where the Australians stood at the close. Tomorrow should be interesting to whether the aggression will continue, or whether they will look to bat as many overs and possible to try and give the batsmen some time in the middle.

  • whoster on June 27, 2013, 20:46 GMT

    I was at Taunton today, and Watson certainly played with confidence and freedom. He was never in trouble until he got out, and it was entertaining to watch. Before anyone gets too excited though, this was against a modest Somerset attack on a belting wicket. Hughes played well too - apart from a dreadful slog against the spin of Dockerell where he should've been stumped. Khawaja didn't look convincing, and Jamie Overton's pace and bounce troubled him. Haddin played a confident knock - seems they made the right choice selecting him ahead of Wade. With all the batting collapses the Aussies have suffered in the past couple of years - in all forms of the game, this should give them some confidence. They'll face a far stiffer test in Nottingham - especially if the ball's hooping around for Anderson.

  • Governor 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.

  • cheguramana 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_S 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.

  • bushranger27 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.

  • 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 .

  • I-Like-Cricket 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.

  • Mary_786 on June 28, 2013, 1:36 GMT

    I am glad to seesignificant improvement overall in the batting performance with boof there, even though it was on a flat wicket. We could get 400 for the first time in a long while in the first innings given they are 4 for 266 with Hughes and Haddin well set.Its obvious that Boof has instilled more confidence and determination in the squad. Watson looked fantastic in the highlights I saw. I like that Khawaja is at 3 as he is our best option at that position. I am thinking we will have Watson and Rogers opening in the first test, Khawaja at 3, Clarke at 4, Rogers at 5 and Hughes at 6. We are beginning to look like they want to win. Of course its very early days and this is not a test match. But there is a sense of more purpose and resolve in the side.

  • jacoblrfc on June 27, 2013, 22:27 GMT

    Agree totally with @whoster, i was also at Taunton today, and will be again tomorrow. The Aussies batted with authority and aggression; with some top quality stroke playing from most batsmen. There were a few chances given (particularly by Hughes and Khawaja) where flashing blades edged over and through the slips. If these chances were all taken, it would have been interesting as to where the Australians stood at the close. Tomorrow should be interesting to whether the aggression will continue, or whether they will look to bat as many overs and possible to try and give the batsmen some time in the middle.

  • whoster on June 27, 2013, 20:46 GMT

    I was at Taunton today, and Watson certainly played with confidence and freedom. He was never in trouble until he got out, and it was entertaining to watch. Before anyone gets too excited though, this was against a modest Somerset attack on a belting wicket. Hughes played well too - apart from a dreadful slog against the spin of Dockerell where he should've been stumped. Khawaja didn't look convincing, and Jamie Overton's pace and bounce troubled him. Haddin played a confident knock - seems they made the right choice selecting him ahead of Wade. With all the batting collapses the Aussies have suffered in the past couple of years - in all forms of the game, this should give them some confidence. They'll face a far stiffer test in Nottingham - especially if the ball's hooping around for Anderson.

  • Governor 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.

  • cheguramana 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_S 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.

  • bushranger27 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.

  • 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 .

  • I-Like-Cricket 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.

  • 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!

  • King-Cobra 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.

  • MinusZero on June 28, 2013, 4:49 GMT

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

  • on June 28, 2013, 2:42 GMT

    Watson is a fantastic talent and best suited as an opener in the current australian squad. However he record doesn't show what every other successful openers have - BIG hundreds. A lot of 50s, 90s etc., but not many hundreds. That's why someone like Warner who had made hundreds was essential for australia. Clarke has to persist with him as an opener, but he will always be an average test opener in my opinion.

  • on June 28, 2013, 2:34 GMT

    Watson slapping quick and attractive half century in a tour match isn't a sudden return to form - its par for the course. Look at his efforts in the tour matches in India - there were some nice half centuries in there as well.

    Or you, don't look at those, because there's a new media narrative to be told.

  • on June 28, 2013, 2:21 GMT

    Cheers, whoster. The turning point for Watson's career was the 2008 IPL - under a great leader (Warne), given responsibility, and expected to step up, he thrived. If he's in the Aus team, he needs to open.

  • Dark.Matter on June 28, 2013, 2:07 GMT

    With watson travelling back to the future, he will have to deal with the general theory of reverse swing reletivity of Englistan. Let see if he can find a loophole to travel faster than speed of swing HEHE

  • jbminthehouse on June 28, 2013, 0:36 GMT

    @whoster

    Thanks for the insight. It seems pretty much what I thought. Watson comfortable as an opener, Khawaja still finding confidence, Haddin showing experience and rash shots from Hughes. Hughes is the biggest worry for me for the 1st test. I like the look of Cowan/Watson opening and I'd like to see Rogers at three with Warner down the order. Will be good to Cowan get some runs before the 1st test as I like the Watson/Cowan combo. This is a great game for Aus even though its' a good wicket.

  • Ozcricketwriter on June 28, 2013, 0:32 GMT

    It is rather obvious. Watson opening also puts less pressure on his bowling, and means that he is more likely to be able to get a few overs in.

  • on June 28, 2013, 0:29 GMT

    Opening the batting or not, this simply has to be the last chance saloon for Watson.

  • bobagorof on June 27, 2013, 23:45 GMT

    It seems Watson says whatever is convenient at the time - I remember him talking up his move down the order because it allowed him more bowling, and last year he was saying that he didn't want to give up bowling (until he got injured, and then declared he would give it away to get back on the field, then he's bowling again after India). However, it does seem that in the warm-up matches he's played this year (against weak opposition usually), when opening he's done well. Maybe opening provides him with some certainty that he needs to keep things mentally on track. It would be a shame if he wasn't able to bowl as much, though Australia has a more threatening attack (on their day) than they did a few years ago so perhaps he won't be required as much. Certainly Australia's most pressing concern is to score runs, and evidence suggests that Watson does that best when he's opening the batting.

  • Indianpunjabi on June 27, 2013, 22:43 GMT

    I havent Seen any overrated and always of different excuses from any Player like this ever in my life..2009-2011 ?? lol was he averaging even 50 that time ?? that so much talk..his test average was below 40 let alone 50

  • Edwards_Anderson on June 27, 2013, 22:38 GMT

    whoster i was at the game too, and all batsman barring Cowan had some time in the middle. Khawaja looked fine, he like the others had to work his best game against swing, but he is one of our better players of swing and bounce, i like him at 3. Really happy to see watson get runs and clarke will come good for us.

  • disco_bob on June 27, 2013, 22:24 GMT

    Looks like the Argus report got it wrong about having the captain as a selector, which Clarke has recognised.

  • on June 27, 2013, 22:07 GMT

    @whoster - Watson always looks brilliant and then all of a sudden gets out (often stupidly). sometimes he makes 5 runs, sometimes 90, almost never 100+.

  • on June 27, 2013, 21:27 GMT

    I notice Watson is out for 90 again. Still, better than 9 or 0 I suppose.

  • Chris_P on June 27, 2013, 21:20 GMT

    Help me understand that if Watson believed the opener's position was the best for him, why did he not choose to open when he captained the side? He even sent Maxwell in as an opener before him! He has, I am afraid a long road to go to get anywhere near squaring the ledger for his inconsistent form (I take that back, consistently poor returns) with the bat over the past 3 years, a long way to go. Give anyone enough chances & they will eventually deliver. I am far from convinced, sorry.

  • Moppa on June 27, 2013, 21:19 GMT

    Plenty of excuses here from Watto. Implicitly he's saying "If it wasn't for Clarkey making my life difficult I would be making heaps of runs". Of course, it's all garbage. His run of failures started while he was still opening, and he barely made a run in India when he wasn't bowling. Perhaps Watto should focus less on justifying his past failures and more on rectifying them in future.

  • Moppa on June 27, 2013, 21:19 GMT

    Plenty of excuses here from Watto. Implicitly he's saying "If it wasn't for Clarkey making my life difficult I would be making heaps of runs". Of course, it's all garbage. His run of failures started while he was still opening, and he barely made a run in India when he wasn't bowling. Perhaps Watto should focus less on justifying his past failures and more on rectifying them in future.

  • Chris_P on June 27, 2013, 21:20 GMT

    Help me understand that if Watson believed the opener's position was the best for him, why did he not choose to open when he captained the side? He even sent Maxwell in as an opener before him! He has, I am afraid a long road to go to get anywhere near squaring the ledger for his inconsistent form (I take that back, consistently poor returns) with the bat over the past 3 years, a long way to go. Give anyone enough chances & they will eventually deliver. I am far from convinced, sorry.

  • on June 27, 2013, 21:27 GMT

    I notice Watson is out for 90 again. Still, better than 9 or 0 I suppose.

  • on June 27, 2013, 22:07 GMT

    @whoster - Watson always looks brilliant and then all of a sudden gets out (often stupidly). sometimes he makes 5 runs, sometimes 90, almost never 100+.

  • disco_bob on June 27, 2013, 22:24 GMT

    Looks like the Argus report got it wrong about having the captain as a selector, which Clarke has recognised.

  • Edwards_Anderson on June 27, 2013, 22:38 GMT

    whoster i was at the game too, and all batsman barring Cowan had some time in the middle. Khawaja looked fine, he like the others had to work his best game against swing, but he is one of our better players of swing and bounce, i like him at 3. Really happy to see watson get runs and clarke will come good for us.

  • Indianpunjabi on June 27, 2013, 22:43 GMT

    I havent Seen any overrated and always of different excuses from any Player like this ever in my life..2009-2011 ?? lol was he averaging even 50 that time ?? that so much talk..his test average was below 40 let alone 50

  • bobagorof on June 27, 2013, 23:45 GMT

    It seems Watson says whatever is convenient at the time - I remember him talking up his move down the order because it allowed him more bowling, and last year he was saying that he didn't want to give up bowling (until he got injured, and then declared he would give it away to get back on the field, then he's bowling again after India). However, it does seem that in the warm-up matches he's played this year (against weak opposition usually), when opening he's done well. Maybe opening provides him with some certainty that he needs to keep things mentally on track. It would be a shame if he wasn't able to bowl as much, though Australia has a more threatening attack (on their day) than they did a few years ago so perhaps he won't be required as much. Certainly Australia's most pressing concern is to score runs, and evidence suggests that Watson does that best when he's opening the batting.

  • on June 28, 2013, 0:29 GMT

    Opening the batting or not, this simply has to be the last chance saloon for Watson.

  • Ozcricketwriter on June 28, 2013, 0:32 GMT

    It is rather obvious. Watson opening also puts less pressure on his bowling, and means that he is more likely to be able to get a few overs in.