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August 7, 2013
Shane Watson has said he is happy for his role in the team to evolve and concedes he has not scored enough runs at the top of the order on this tour to lock himself into a permanent opening position. Watson started this Ashes series as an opening batsman who bowled a bit but as Geoffrey Boycott has noted, he might finish it as an opening bowler who bats a bit.
Watson's role changed in the second innings at Old Trafford, where he was demoted to No.4 as the Australians promoted David Warner in a bid for quick runs and stacked their middle order with right-handers in an effort to attack Graeme Swann. It is an order they may well use again in the fourth Test at Chester-le-Street and it could mean Watson's days as a Test opener are numbered.
On this trip, Watson has scored 13, 46, 30, 20 and 19 opening and, in every partnership with Chris Rogers, it has been Watson who has fallen first. He has worked on his propensity to be out lbw to the ball moving in, attempting to balance himself better as the ball is being delivered and have a smaller stride, but at Old Trafford it was an outside edge that ended his stay in the first innings and Watson knows he has not delivered as an opener.
"From my personal perspective, it's been a really disappointing three Test matches so far," Watson said. "To be able to get the starts and get the things going and then not be able to capitalise on that has been extremely annoying. I've been working hard on one thing in particular where the ball is seaming back to try and give myself the best chance of being able to get through a ball like that.
"It's probably been the first time really in my career that I feel like I'm actually batting well, but I'm not getting the results that I know I can get. Of course it's been extremely frustrating, especially batting with Chris, I've felt like we've been able to get a really good bond together opening the batting. But I haven't been out there long enough to be able to build a really big partnership together with him.
"I certainly do love opening the batting in all forms of the game. But even in the second innings I absolutely do understand the thought process behind it [moving down to No.4]. I also haven't scored the runs as an opener as well in these three Test matches to be able to continue to feel like I'm doing a competent job at the top of the order. In the end, I'm happy to bat anywhere, I'm happy to play anywhere to be part of an Australian team that is certainly moving forward."
It is now 12 innings since Watson has made a Test half-century, the most recent one coming against Sri Lanka at the MCG in last year's Boxing Day Test. But his bowling workload has increased and he has sent down 61 overs during the series, even sharing the new ball during the second innings at Lord's. He has dried up England's runs effectively and Watson said he was happy with his extra bowling load.
"To be able to take the new ball in the second innings at Lord's and come on pretty early, my role is probably changing a little bit," he said. "But any way I can try and evolve and try and contribute to the team is the most important thing for me. I am trying to take wickets by being patient but also trying to work the batsman over. One of the outcomes is to keep it really tight.
"I'm not sure that opening the batting and bowling 20 overs in a day would be possible. If that was what the team wanted me to do I would do it to the best of my ability. The way my body is continuing to go and the way I am bowling at the moment I feel that is not too far away. Michael [Clarke] has been looking after me in the three Tests by not bowling me at certain times when we are about to go in to bat again. The way he has been looking after me has been excellent."
It has not only been a difficult tour for Watson on the field with the bat; the revelations in Mickey Arthur's legal documents that Michael Clarke had called Watson "a cancer" on the team and that there was "major tension" between the two men emerged at an awkward time as the battle for the urn heated up. Watson made no denials and said that there had been times when things became difficult off the field, but that Darren Lehmann's appointment as coach had helped.
"It didn't particularly worry me too much," Watson said of the leaking of Arthur's documents. "It's something that's happened in the past ... things that were in and around the team through that period of time of about a year certainly weren't that great but as I said this is an exciting time for me in my cricket career to be able to have Darren Lehmann doing an amazing job of bringing everyone together.
"For me this is the most enjoyable time I've had within the Australian team for a long, long time, so those things ... if things hadn't evolved the way they had within the team then it probably would have affected me more but how excited I am about being involved in the Australian cricket team at this point in time that's all in the past and we're all moving forward."
Watson said the tour of India this year, which included his suspension for one Test over the homework saga, was a low point of his career and he had contemplated his future. However, he said with Lehmann in charge he was no longer thinking in such a way.
"How he coaches is how he played the game, to make sure you really enjoy the game," Watson said of Lehmann. "He played with freedom. I always admired the way Darren did play the game. He got the most out of his talent and was always extremely exciting to watch. He always made the game go forward the way he played. That's how he saw the game and that's how he is as a coach and that's how I am as well I suppose.
"That's the cricket environment I got brought up with when I first started around the Australian squad. It drifted a little bit for a period of time but we've certainly got that back again now that Darren has taken over. People feel like they're instilled with a lot more freedom to be able to go out there and express themselves and have fun doing it."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Brydon Coverdale
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