The Investec Ashes 2013

Bridging Watson's concentration gap

Daniel Brettig in Nottingham

July 7, 2013

Comments: 28 | Text size: A | A

Shane Watson and Chris Rogers will begin the Ashes as Australia's opening pair, Worcestershire v Australians, Tour Match, New Road, 1st day, July 2, 2013
Chris Rogers, Shane Watson's opening partner for the first Ashes Test, believes he can help Watson focus better © Getty Images
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Players/Officials: Chris Rogers | Shane Watson
Teams: Australia

Shane Watson's chances of finally dominating an Ashes series in the way his talent has always suggested will hinge on avoiding the lapses that have conspired to leave him with only two Test centuries in 41 matches. So long as he can stay at the other end, Watson's opening partner Chris Rogers believes he can help close the concentration gap that has kept the allrounder from turning good into great.

Opening with Watson for the first time against Worcestershire at New Road, Rogers was awed by the crispness and power of his new partner's strokeplay. But he was also alert to the fact that Watson can make batting appear so natural that comfort becomes his enemy - a shot played too presumptuously or too soon has often resulted in his demise.

"I was trying to drive him," Rogers said in Nottingham ahead of the first Test. "Only because he was in many respects far better than their attack but his challenge is to bat for long periods of time, which he certainly has the skill and the temperament to do. It's up to him now. Hopefully if I get the chance I can help with that a little bit as well.

"He was outstanding - I haven't seen a bloke down the other end hit the ball as well as that for a long time. So it's a good sign, he's in excellent form and I thought we got on well and communicated well, so that was a good start for us."

That communication included Rogers advising Watson to be careful loading up to play cross-bat strokes against shorter balls on a wicket that was given to the occasional variation in pace. The next short ball duly behaved oddly as Watson swayed out of the way, drawing a smile and nod of appreciation towards the non-striker. Watson still rattled to three figures before lunch, enhanced concentration reaping a first-class hundred for the first time since the 2010 Mohali Test match.

Contrast that with Rogers' 60 first-class centuries, including two in England so far this summer for Middlesex, and there is plenty for the Watson the hare to learn from the tortoise. "I think with batting it's about keeping in your own little bubble and making sure your focus is strong and that you're setting yourself to bat for a long time," Rogers said. "Over my career that's been one of my skills, so maybe I can just give a little bit of insight into that.

"You can't concentrate [constantly] for that amount of time and it's about focusing. That's a skill as well. To bat long periods of time you have to be able to do that there's no doubt, and there's techniques to that, and at times I've been able to do that well."

This is not to say that Rogers is after an unofficial coaching commission within the team. He has enough on his mind readying himself for a first Test match since 2008. "I think the fact Darren Lehmann and Michael Di Venuto [the batting coach] have been in and about England and able to pass on plenty of info has been good," he said. "I've been able to do my own thing and just help out when and if required."

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

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Posted by H_Z_O on (July 9, 2013, 11:00 GMT)

@ScottStevo Hey! We did not have a "much worse" side in 2005. The top 5 bowlers in terms of averages and strike rates were Warne, Jones, McGrath, Fred and Hoggy. Pietersen scored the most runs, Strauss the most centuries, Vaughan the highest score. We scored more centuries as a team (5 to 3), more fifties (14 to 9). Four of the top five run scorers were English. Any way you split it we were the better side.

Would McGrath being fit throughout have made a difference? Probably. But there's no way to know how much of one, and it's unlikely we'd have gone from being the better side to being "much worse" even with McGrath being fit.

The 2009 series was an interesting one. Your bowlers took the most wickets but we had the bowler with the best strike rate (Onions) and he missed two Tests because of tactical reasons. Harmison played two and did well. The batting was impossible to explain. You scored more runs, more centuries, and only two less fifties. We just seemed to seize opportunities.

Posted by kensohatter on (July 9, 2013, 5:05 GMT)

I would prefer to see Rogers and Cowan open and if required have Watson handle the second new ball at 6. This may also mean he can bowl. I am convinced Rogers is a stroke of genius selection and that England underate the threat he poses.

Posted by ScottStevo on (July 8, 2013, 20:55 GMT)

@Neil Robinson, then why is it that Watson did so well as opener in 09? He didn't convert enough, but he got Aus off to good starts.

Posted by ScottStevo on (July 8, 2013, 20:52 GMT)

@Snick_to_backward_Point, that's okay as England have proved they're not much better than NZ (who are a team getting stronger) anyway. Drew in NZ and should've lost the first test over here when setting a miserly target of 200 and a bit. I think the NZ series was a good indication of the average results this English side have posted over the past 18 months. Loads of hype, few results. The excuse - complacency. An overly arrogant way of stating the obvious, they're nowhere near as good as the English think they are. Undoubtedly, England have a good side, but it's no surprise seeing Prior getting player of the year award for the amount of times he bailed out your much vaunted top order's numerous failures in '12. If the Aus batting do ok, we'll be in the hunt in this series. Still underdogs, but this series will be well contested. Eng won in 05 and 09 and they had a much worse team than Aus both times - so it's not unimaginable.

Posted by Snick_To_Backward_Point on (July 8, 2013, 15:10 GMT)

D Pen - less an estimation and more opinions based on reality. The vaunted Aussie bowling has been struggling to bowl out county sides in their warm ups, there's disarray in the dressing room with Lehman hastily dishing out plasters to stem the bleeding and aside from Clarke who's back may go at any second there is zilch in the batting department to get worried about. It;s not over confidence just reality. New Zealand are a better side than Australia right they're THAT bad IMO.

Posted by Broken_F-ing_Arm on (July 8, 2013, 1:52 GMT)

@FFL hmmm can you justify Rogers "troubling form", because the last I deem we he was the county comps leading run scorer with a average in the mid 70's.

Posted by handyandy on (July 7, 2013, 20:24 GMT)

Cowan is a stop gap opener at best. If he isn't required to open then he doesn't belong in the team. Khawaja would be a better prospect at first drop.

Big question marks over Warner and Hughes as well. I would prefer to see Smith get a go in front of one of them.

You have to have Rhino in the team ... he is our best bowler. I would certainly pick him in front of Siddle.

Posted by Kevinguitar on (July 7, 2013, 20:06 GMT)

looking forward let see who wind the ashes this time......

Posted by t20-2007 on (July 7, 2013, 18:35 GMT)

Why Hughes...pls drop this guy...he will never come good

Posted by fatier on (July 7, 2013, 17:45 GMT)

Exactly my point.Watson is needed to stick around a bit longer instead of scoring a quick 30 and getting out.Also,I don't think they should play Warner at all.Perhaps,he can be devastating but his inconsistency impedes to his chances.Give either Hughes or Khawaja a chance,and I'm sure they'll shine

Posted by KARNAWAT33 on (July 7, 2013, 16:53 GMT)

I'm very happy to hear that Rogers will FINALLY be playing wearing the BAGGY GREEN, but at the same time it is disheartening to learn that he will be opening. That means, either Davey Warner will be pushed down to No.6, with Cowan at No.3, that's a potential disaster in the making. Or, Warner will come to bat at No.3, a position which requires a man like Rogers per say, who is consistent, focused and who can concentrate for long periods of time and can stick around if needed. I'm not saying that Warner can't do that, but Rogers is certainly a better No.3 and is experienced enough to take that role. I believe WATSON-WARNER will be a devastating opening combination any day better than WATSON-ROGERS. Also, the fact that if Warner is pushed down the order, Steven Smith won't be given a chance to prove his talent yet again, a bloke who has been consistent and deserves a chance. Watto, Warner, Rogers, Clarke, Smith, Haddy, Faulkner, Pattinson, Starc, Sidds and Bird is what I'll go with.

Posted by   on (July 7, 2013, 15:08 GMT)

Waiting for the start of the clash between the "overCooked" English team and the "undercooked" OZ team!

Posted by   on (July 7, 2013, 15:06 GMT)

It is funny to see that many Oz team members feel that they can be coaches and counsellors to their team mates. Last year, we had a "college grad" in the team playing the management's role with impunity! The only edge he had was his better command over the English language; nothing else. You all know, whom I am referring to! Now, it is Rogers turn to "offer" his services! Wow!

Posted by   on (July 7, 2013, 15:00 GMT)

This time many peoples estimations are going badly wrong ..I dont see AUSTRALIANS weaker than English side in any respect expect the case for spinner and the trent bridge pitch is going to offer good bounce as well ,so ,that will certainly boost australians strength as they posses lots of world class fast bowler and Clarke will definitely produce big innings and this time WATSON too will be in a good knock too.

Posted by   on (July 7, 2013, 14:41 GMT)

Personally, to answer the question above - as an England supporter, I don't see Watson IN ENGLISH CONDITIONS as a test opener. The Khawaja / Cowan argument I come down in favour of Cowan at 3. So Openers: Warner & Rogers: Warner can take away the game and should play: Cowan at 3: Clarke at 4 - with the rest of the batting he can't wait until 5; Hughes at 5, Watson at 6; Hadden or Wade - doesn't really matter - equal keepers and if you are relying on your No & as a batsman, you're in trouble: bowlers fine - perm any 4 from the options - equally good, but no one in normal conditions should frighten the English top 6. Siddle, Pattison, Starc, Bird, Harris - only really Pattison as a strike bowler threatens: Lyon/Agar - neither comes across as world beating - and these are English pitches. No, I'm not being complacent but if England fail to win the series I would be surprised

Posted by H_Z_O on (July 7, 2013, 14:27 GMT)

@siddhartha87 Cook averages 50.6 against Australia. Pietersen 52.7. Trott's will no doubt come down (because he hasn't played as many Tests against them as those two) but it's 86.4. Cook's conversion rate against Australia is 133%. Pietersen's is 38%. Trott's is 300%. Watson's against England? 0%. And it's not an anomaly just against England, his career conversion rate is 10%. Pietersen's is 73%, Cook's 86% and Trott's 56%. Even his biggest fans would admit he needs to convert starts. But if he does so, yeah, he could be a threat. "One man army" may be stretching it, his highest First Class score is a double and Clarke's got 4 Test Match doubles (one of which was a triple against India) but Watson scoring runs would ease the pressure on Clarke, no doubt, so they'll be hoping Rogers is right and he can turn it around.

Posted by Sunil_Batra on (July 7, 2013, 14:23 GMT)

@HayderAli like you i also see Rogers, Khawaja and Watson playing a big role in the batting, they need to as Clarke can't do it all on his own.

Posted by   on (July 7, 2013, 13:45 GMT)

australias biggest concern ll b bowling not batting and lack of good spin bowling clark ll b scoring alot of runs along with haddin khawaja and watson plus rogers ll play a big role i dnt see warner scoring many runs

Posted by landl47 on (July 7, 2013, 12:45 GMT)

Someone with a first-class average of 50 over a lengthy career has to be doing something right and Rogers seems a pretty bright guy. If you analyze what he said, it's this: Watson's a talented player but not very smart in his shot-selection. Maybe I can help him not to play stupid shots.

It's exactly what Watson needs. Unfortunately, grafting Rogers' head onto Watson's talent isn't going to be easy.

Posted by Dangertroy on (July 7, 2013, 12:17 GMT)

I love the thought of Rogers wandering down the pitch between innings and giving Watson a slap. "Wake Up". I often thought something similar of the Cowan and Warner combination. Cowan would wander down and tell Warner to hit the ball or settle down. Warner would grunt and nod his head.

Posted by king78787 on (July 7, 2013, 12:12 GMT)

Interesting the influence Rogers has on Watson. If Rogers goes early then Watson could be much more vulnerable. To get them out:

1. Watson-pulling early on, chance for short midwicket 2. Rogers- Stop the release shots, build pressure and wait for the mistake 3. Cowan- Make sure he doesn't get the strike, build pressure, wait or the mistake. 4. Clarke- Swing the ball, get him to nibble at it. 5. Hughes- SWANN. 6. Warner- prevent the singles, get him to hole out. 7. Haddin- Get him to hole out.

Posted by Chris_P on (July 7, 2013, 10:11 GMT)

It's always a sense of frustration that guys with talent don't have the work ethic of others with limited talent. Rogers talent doesn't compare with Watson's but I know who I would rather have in my team every time. Really, at 32 years of age, if Watson can't manage to stay focussed now, what chance has he got that he will ever learn?

Posted by siddhartha87 on (July 7, 2013, 10:08 GMT)

i really don't understand why English fans keep under estimating Watson. watson has a average of 48+ against the england. True he has not scored any century in those matches but still he deserves to be respected. You should know if Watson fires you are gonna lose the Ashes badly. Yes he is an one man army.

Posted by milepost on (July 7, 2013, 10:03 GMT)

England are not as good as their fans would have you believe and Australia come in with the expectation of being easily rolled so as underdogs don't have that weight of expectation. I bet the English team won't take them as lightly as some of the England fans. This will be a real contest though I suspect Australia will open up the cracks in the England side once their press and fans turn their backs on them. Love the Ashes!

Posted by PFEL on (July 7, 2013, 10:01 GMT)

Rogers is in troubling form indeed. Troubling for the English bowlers.

Posted by Front-Foot-Lunge on (July 7, 2013, 9:28 GMT)

Rogers in troubling form going into the Ashes, there really is no one else good enough to fill that spot. But that's a long-standing problem with many positions in this Australian cricket team.

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Daniel Brettig Assistant editor Daniel Brettig had been a journalist for eight years when he joined ESPNcricinfo, but his fascination with cricket dates back to the early 1990s, when his dad helped him sneak into the family lounge room to watch the end of day-night World Series matches well past bedtime. Unapologetically passionate about indie music and the South Australian Redbacks, Daniel's chief cricketing achievement was to dismiss Wisden Almanack editor Lawrence Booth in the 2010 Ashes press match in Perth - a rare Australian victory that summer.
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