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