England v Australia, 5th Investec Test, The Oval, 1st day

Talent frustrated no longer?

Shane Watson's innings was encouraging for Australia but its timing means the questions will remain for now

Brydon Coverdale at The Oval

August 21, 2013

Comments: 38 | Text size: A | A

Shane Watson pulls away another short delivery, England v Australia, 5th Investec Test, The Oval, 1st day, August 21, 2013
The selection of two England debutants helped Shane Watson in asserting himself © Getty Images
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That Shane Watson was talented enough to play an innings like this was never in doubt. That he ever would in a Test match was questionable. That he now has in an Ashes battle is encouraging. That he has done so in a dead rubber is frustrating. Talented, questionable, encouraging, frustrating. That is how Watson is, was and, perhaps, ever shall be.

Watson's 176 at The Oval was at once meaningless and consequential. It held no value for Australia's hopes of regaining the urn, which disappeared in the Manchester rain, nor of levelling the series, which fizzled out on a crazy fourth day in Chester-le-Street. But if his innings sets up an Australia victory, it will instil belief in a team lacking it.

Ultimately, Watson will be judged not by this innings but by whether he follows it with important runs in the home Ashes later this year. Barring injury, he will surely begin that series at No. 3, for he is the man responsible for ending Australia's longest ever drought of Test innings without a hundred from first drop.

That he was No.3 at The Oval was an accident, not a masterstroke. First drop through most of last year, No. 4 in India, an opener at the start of this trip, briefly No. 6 in the last Test, at times a batsman only, at others a first-change bowler, Michael Clarke's deputy for two years, Australia's 44th Test captain. He looked like ending this series as the team's minister without portfolio.

Certainly he remains a senior player in the side. On Monday, while the rest of the squad trained at The Oval, coach Darren Lehmann and selector on duty Rod Marsh gathered their leadership group together for a half-hour meeting. Clarke was there with his new deputy Brad Haddin, so were Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle, the leaders of the attack. So was Watson.

"It was more or less about us standing up as senior players and leading from the front," Clarke said of the meeting. "It was a reminder that we continue on and off the field to lead the way. It is more important when things aren't going to plan."

Standing up has not been Watson's strength in the past couple of years. The man who made back-to-back hundreds in the semi-final and final of the 2009 Champions Trophy, the man who was Player of the Tournament at last year's World Twenty20 couldn't score big at Test level. In the past two years he had averaged 24.79, always batting in the top six.

Watson's previous Test century was so long ago - Mohali in 2010 - that Clarke was the only team-mate from that match also playing at The Oval. Simon Katich was excommunicated. Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey have retired. Marcus North fell off the radar. Mitchell Johnson has slid from view. Tim Paine, filling in there for Haddin, seems forgotten. Nathan Hauritz, Ben Hilfenhaus and Doug Bollinger have been dropped.

Watson remained. Of course, Watson offered an important bowling option that made him a curious case; a top six batsman not pulling his weight with the bat but easing the team's burden with the ball. There were useful fifties, innings that teased, but little substance. Clarke made 187 at Old Trafford, Haddin is on the verge of a series wicketkeeping record, Harris and Siddle have both bowled well.

More than any of the other senior men, Watson knew this was a time he had to stand up. Dead rubber or not. It helped that England picked Chris Woakes and Simon Kerrigan. Both debutants were nervous, both suffered at the hands of Watson. Watson had clubbed Kerrigan in the tour match in Northampton on Saturday and did here again.

"I was expecting Tremlett to play," Watson said after play. "I'm a bit happier not having to face a guy about six-eight bowling balls that are bouncing up into your splice all the time."

England helped Watson, but Watson helped himself. Over the past fortnight he worked on his lbw problem in the nets, with Clarke yelling instructions as the batting coach Michael di Venuto gave throwdowns. Here, he played well against James Anderson and Stuart Broad. It was his day; he even successfully reviewed an lbw decision. It was also the 19th day in a now dead series.

"I'd give anything to have been able to score runs at the start of the series," he said. "It's only consolation more than anything, because the most important time is in the first three Test matches and I wasn't able to do that ... I've certainly been asking myself a lot of different questions over the last five Test matches about where I'm at with my cricket. It's nice that I've been able to put it together but it's not so nice that it's taken so long."

For Watson as much as anyone, it was an encouraging, yet frustrating innings.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by   on (August 24, 2013, 9:10 GMT)

Incredible comments! If KP had blasted that innings we'd never hear the end of it. Apart from being good for Watto on a personal level and important for Australia, it was a brilliantly entertaining performance which was good for the crowd and the game of cricket. So he pulverised debutantes, he faced experienced bowlers as well. Don't remember reading much criticism of Bell while he's been plundering runs throughout the series from a less-than-amazing Aussie attack. If Watson's an 'average' player, let's hear it for mediocrity, as it's clearly being undervalued. It was a superb and exciting innings by a hugely talented player. By contrast, Joe Root was lauded to the heavens for plodding towards a century in a match which was already in England's favour. Even though I support England, as a cricket fan I know who I'd prefer to watch.

Posted by Skott on (August 24, 2013, 7:32 GMT)

In 2 years time the selectors will be saying... "We know he hasn't scored a century in the last 40 innings, but we know he can do it-- that 170 in England was fabulous, wasn't it?"

Posted by   on (August 24, 2013, 2:40 GMT)

The one I have sympathy for is Hughes. In 2009, he was dropped and an underperforming Mike Hissey was retained. He too came back with a century when it didn't matter. This series, Hughes was dropped to allow an out of form Watson to remain in the team and like Hussey he got a century in the dead rubber5 game.

Posted by Redbackfan on (August 23, 2013, 5:43 GMT)

Great article spot on. Hughes and Khawaja probably would have benefited from having a bat in this game anyways go Aussie

Posted by   on (August 22, 2013, 15:37 GMT)

A very beautiful and symphonic article.

Posted by bobmartin on (August 22, 2013, 12:33 GMT)

Well I watched most of his innings..and it just happened to be his day.. A lot of his runs came off the two debutants, who hardly set the world alight. Any batsman worth his salt would have got those runs on that wicket with that bowling., particularly since the result means nothing more than perhaps a face-saving exercise for Australia...I want to see him do it when the chips are down.. which so far in this series he has failed to do. . This may be a turning point in Watson's career, but so was the last time he got a test hundred in 2011. How desparate does it make Aussie cricket look that they have persisted with a batsman whose average over the last two or more years is less than 25,

Posted by VivGilchrist on (August 22, 2013, 10:53 GMT)

@Eric Smith, last time I checked Anderson, Broad, and Swann were playing in this game. I have not seen anyone receive so much criticism for scoring a large hundred. Whats wrong with people? Look at the series stats people, and you'll see that Bell is the only batsman this series who has consistently batted well. He, this series, is the difference between the two teams.

Posted by   on (August 22, 2013, 9:24 GMT)

Watson is an ordinary player. he has reached his full potential there is not much there. he will now average about 15 in the next 6 innings. the question is, is that enough to warrant a place in the aussie side. unfortunately yes. hughes is terrible

Posted by Big_Chikka on (August 22, 2013, 9:19 GMT)

he's playing for his place, as are many australian players. lucky to be in the team, maybe, but, now he's got something to build on for the home series. good to watch and hopefully more to come.

Posted by S.Jagernath on (August 22, 2013, 8:49 GMT)

The most important question is whether Michael Clarke is turning into Suresh Raina,its disgusting the way the short ball troubled him on a flat surface.Atlest Raina got embarassed on some real green wickets in 2011.

Posted by RagTagTeam on (August 22, 2013, 8:38 GMT)

There's an interesting amount of cynicism about this innings of Watto's. I don't think the big score in a redundant test is the only positive to take from it, but the way he made the runs - He played with a straight bat, especially once he had got over that initial 20-30. He retained his brutal approach and tempered his shots. Please keep it up Watson!

Posted by   on (August 22, 2013, 7:09 GMT)

Since IPL, he has learnt a lot from Rohit Sharma. Get a 100 every 100 innings, that will keep you in the team for 2 years.

Posted by milepost on (August 22, 2013, 7:07 GMT)

Scathing words @Wefinishthis! One thing can be said for the Aussie batsman when they get runs in they are a darn sight more interesting to watch than England! Apart from KP and Bell, for different reasons. It's a good thing Cook is captain, that will keep him in the side despite consistent failings at the top of the order. Root isn't great, Trott out if form for a while, KP not quite there yet, Bairstow gone, Prioir hasn't scored a run since becoming player of the year and Australia are improving. Yeah it's 3-0 and England fully deserve that, no excuses from an Aussie here. But, it just seems England are in decline and Australia in the way up. @Vinay Kolhatkar, what are you talking about Watson LBW on 10? He made 176 actually.

Posted by siddhartha87 on (August 22, 2013, 6:16 GMT)

People these days criticize Aussie players even when they do well.I guess reason is that Aussie kicked every bodies A** for 10-12 years before that :D

Posted by emu1 on (August 22, 2013, 6:13 GMT)

I am a long time skeptic about Watson's ability and his place in the Test team. It would be easy to be cynical about this being a flash in the pan in a dead rubber. Instead, let's give him due credit for a wonderful innings and wish him well for a good summer in Australia.

Posted by   on (August 22, 2013, 6:10 GMT)

Great knock from Watto ! the sad thing is both the author & the aussie fans r looking at it as personal gratification for watson. the fact is even if he had failed, he needs to be aussie team unless they find an alternative. As simple as that. i think he batted fluently throughout the series but could'nt conver the starts due to poor shot selection. lets not put undue pressure on him. The ashes cycle has come full circle & aussie fans should acknowledge it. u cant b dominant for ever in any sport. The key is to remained foccused & keep moving on in the right direction without weighing too much on results.

Posted by Greatest_Game on (August 22, 2013, 6:08 GMT)

Well I guess this innings settles Aus' no. 3 position for … ummm … the next 3 tests or a until new coach is appointed - whatever comes first!

Well played Watto. It was a fine century. Just 42 more of those, and another 224 wickets, and you'll be challenging Kallis for the title!

Posted by mixters on (August 22, 2013, 5:53 GMT)

All the test playing nations would hope that Watson continues to get out LBW and does not do a Brian Lara or Steve Waugh once they had there breakthrough innings the world was there oyster. Watson has had hundreds before but has always threatened to play a knock like this. This is the same man who made 189 in 30 overs in a one day game not out because they run down the target. A world record gone begging if he got to bat the other 20 overs. He has always reminded me of Viv Richards except for the getting himself out in the 30s or 40s thing. It will be a long summer for opposition teams if he continues this kind of application to batting.

Posted by BondShaneBond on (August 22, 2013, 5:46 GMT)

Congrats Watto, you deserve it mate, and Thank God you scored. Here is wishing you all the best (as ever) and hoping to see more like these when POMs go down under. also, like to Thank Steven Smith, once again for some handy runs, wish he scores his maiden ton. Amen.

Posted by balajik1968 on (August 22, 2013, 4:42 GMT)

He needs to carry on, otherwise this will be a career saving rather than careen changing knock. He has another 3 to 5 years in the game, depending on his fitness, and should now work on his consistency.

Posted by cricket_ahan on (August 22, 2013, 4:17 GMT)

Good article, and a reasonable summation of the character that is Shane Watson. Though I have my reservations about his attitude and a perception of him as a selfish player, I have tremendous respect for his talent, and not seeing it fulfilled would be a loss to the cricketing world. Of course, there doesn't seem to be an issue when it comes to T20 and ODI cricket - in that arena he dominates, and his style of play (hard and aggressive, albeit with a limited concentration span) is well suited. But he has never quite seemed to get the hang of playing a patient, traditional Test innings. At the end of the day, style or no style, it's really just about runs, and this innings should hopefully give him some confidence. Like the Australian team though, it's all for nothing if it can't be backed up in following series. Here's hoping, for talent's sake.

Posted by landl47 on (August 22, 2013, 3:29 GMT)

Making runs in a dead rubber game isn't quite the same as making them when it matters, although I'm taking nothing away from the quality of Watson's ball-striking. His innings was great to watch.

However, as for whether his problems are cured, he was one umpire's decision away from being back in the pavilion LBW. If Aleem Dar had given him out (and he's given tighter decisions than that) DRS wouldn't have saved him. Let's reserve judgement until he does it more regularly.

Posted by   on (August 22, 2013, 3:12 GMT)

go back and watch Woakes' first spell. it was test quality.

Posted by Buggsy on (August 22, 2013, 3:11 GMT)

Not be negative-nancy or anything, but Watson will be back to his below average self next Test. Like Mitch Johnson, producing one killer innings in every ten is not good enough at this level.

Posted by Rahulbose on (August 22, 2013, 2:52 GMT)

Its a smart strategic move by Eng, making sure Watson is picked for the test series in Aus.

Posted by Busie1979 on (August 22, 2013, 1:28 GMT)

The negative spin on Watson's innings is perhaps understandable, but give credit where credit is due. It was a good knock and hopefully a sign that Watson has turned the corner. Good luck to him - I know in some respects he hasn't done himself any favours, but he gets a hard time from the Aussie public which, I can imagine, hasn't done his confidence any good on the field. Coverdale is right about this - Watson now needs to back it up with more hundreds.

Posted by   on (August 22, 2013, 0:19 GMT)

Forget the post-lunch blow, forget the debutants, Watson was out lbw when on 10, given not out, and the rest as they say, is history.

Posted by alstar2281 on (August 21, 2013, 23:56 GMT)

The turning point seemed to be the ball that hit him in the head. The cynical public perception of Watson would have been for him to retire and seek treatment in the dressingroom, perhaps not to return. Harsh and exaggerated maybe but you could almost see the look on his face that said "not today, today is my day". He shook of the blow & knuckled down in a show of character & fight that has been lacking on this tour from all the batsmen. Sure he had some luck, but the harder you work the luckier you get.

Posted by JimmyDee on (August 21, 2013, 22:39 GMT)

I backed either Warner or Watson to go big in this Test. Perhaps every cynic did, but who can blame us? The posturing and posing, whining and whingeing from this forever pretender has been the most excruciatingly frustrating experience for those of us who invest so deeply in Test cricket. His promises of riches has always been surrounded by injury, apathy and excuses. This has to be his watershed moment, this innings, he will never have a better opportunity.

Posted by Jonathan_E on (August 21, 2013, 22:26 GMT)

Watson: Australia's Graeme Hick.

Posted by Roshan_P on (August 21, 2013, 22:24 GMT)

Well sone Watto, but what's going to happen to Phil Hughes, who should definitely have always been in the team? Where will he play now? The openers have cemented their position, Watto has done well at three, Clarke at four and Smith has just scored a fifty so he is likely to be at 5. 6 is far too low a position for someone who regularly opens, and we know he has trouble playing spin.

Posted by Wefinishthis on (August 21, 2013, 22:21 GMT)

Clever tactic by England to bowl poorly to him, drop catches off him (e.g. Cook) and let him score some runs to make sure that he gets selected for the return series where they know he will return to being the free wicket he has been for his entire test career. They'd be smart to make sure they throw most of their wickets away to Starc as well to ensure he also gets picked in first XI for the free runs he's offered up his entire career.

Posted by hhillbumper on (August 21, 2013, 22:08 GMT)

Greatest player ever. The only thing that makes this a sarcastic statement is that this is his first century in how long? Lets face it even Chris Lewis got a test century and this is who Watson reminds me of.Great talent and poor attitude.The more this tour goes on the more I think Australia have become the England of the early 90s

Posted by   on (August 21, 2013, 21:59 GMT)

Looks like Dravid handled Shane Watson well during IPL. Shane needs mentoring and that he found in Dravid. I guess Shane needs a Father figure in Australian Cricket and I feel that can be provided by Steve Waugh.

Posted by MinusZero on (August 21, 2013, 21:47 GMT)

Its bad news for Australia, it means that Watson now has a licence to fail for another two years without fear of being dropped. The buzz word today will be that he is "in form". Of course normal (non-media) people know that form is more than one innings. I still believe Watson is taking a place in this team that could be taken and used better by a non-allrounder. In the preceding two years (before the start of this test), Australia had played 28 tests. 18 with Watson in the team, 10 without. With him, Australia won only 33%, without 60%. The batting average with Watson was 30, without 43. Stats do prove some things. Australia is better off without Watson.

Posted by Dangertroy on (August 21, 2013, 21:42 GMT)

Well congratulations Watson, you played a superb innings. I was scathing of your elevation to number three yesterday, and you've proved me wrong. This one food innings has probably guaranteed you the spot for the home summer, so I hope you follow it up with more consistent performances in the next innings and beyond.

Posted by   on (August 21, 2013, 21:16 GMT)

Look up frustrating in any dictionary and you will see a picture of Shane Watson.

Call me a cynic, but a hundred in a dead rubber against a weakened, relative inexperienced England bowling attack raises more questions than it answers.

Hopefully, if nothing else, first drop is finally settled and this Team will have some stability and resolve to play some winning cricket. Until them I remain unconvinced.

Posted by R_U_4_REAL_NICK on (August 21, 2013, 21:02 GMT)

Oh yeah - what ever did happen to "Ben Hilfenhaus and Doug Bollinger" besides just "dropped"?

"I was expecting Tremlett to play," Watson said after play. We all were Watto, believe me we all were. It's a somewhat welcome change they didn't - it is a dead-rubber after all.

Comments have now been closed for this article

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Brydon CoverdaleClose
Brydon Coverdale Assistant Editor Possibly the only person to win a headline-writing award for a title with the word "heifers" in it, Brydon decided agricultural journalism wasn't for him when he took up his position with ESPNcricinfo in Melbourne. His cricketing career peaked with an unbeaten 85 in the seconds for a small team in rural Victoria on a day when they could not scrounge up 11 players and Brydon, tragically, ran out of partners to help him reach his century. He is also a compulsive TV game-show contestant and has appeared on half a dozen shows in Australia.
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