4 for 42 v India, Nagpur, 2008
Before the 2008 tour of India, Shane Watson had been known primarily for his injuries - and perhaps the ghost of Lumley Castle in Durham on the 2005 Ashes trip. However on a journey that proved largely barren for Ricky Ponting's declining team, Watson was to show the first genuine glimpses of Test-match promise. His batting was better than his final series figures showed, exemplified by a patient 78 in Mohali when others found the going close to impossible. His bowling was in its quiet way revelatory, proving he had jettisoned the youthful yearning to bowl as fast as possible and replaced it with a strong command of line, length and reverse swing. The second-innings spell in Nagpur might easily have helped Australia to a series-saving win had Ponting persisted with Watson after tea. As it was, he chose to avoid a ban for over rates by using Michael Hussey and Cameron White. Still, the maturing Watson who came to command a place in the Test team had his origins on this tour. Three years later in Galle, his use of the reversing ball would break the back of Sri Lanka's first innings to set-up one of the most noteworthy Australian victories of the period.
51 v England, Leeds, 2009
A half-century in an innings victory doesn't sound like much, but the confidence and power Watson demonstrated after being chosen as an opener in the middle of the 2009 series was striking. He had been brought in to replace Phillip Hughes after two poor Tests at Cardiff and Lord's, a decision which still rankles with some as being too hasty. Nevertheless, Watson immediately showed a strong degree of confidence around off stump and a scarcely disguised glee in putting away the bad ball. At Headingley he was actually the slower of the two batsmen in Australia's second-wicket stand as Ponting put together one of his last great innings, but Watson's contribution was sturdiness personified and set the scene for his most prolific batting phase. A commentating Geoff Boycott summed it up as: "A very commonsense, well-played 50 ... he's played absolutely splendidly." Of course, Graeme Onions would get Watson lbw before the innings could bloom into anything bigger - another developing trend.
126 v India, Mohali, 2010
One-hundred and nine innings, four hundreds. It is by these digits that Watson's career can most aptly be summed up, as he failed overall to overcome the mental and physical hurdles placed in front of Test batsmen wishing to become regular centurions. On that basis, Watson's finest Test innings was probably this one, the only "bat all day" century he ever made, and by some distance the slowest. There were a few familiar tropes to it: he was dropped by Virender Sehwag in the gully before he had scored, he then got off to a rapid start against a hard ball and an attacking field, before slowing down - notably getting into something of a Mexican stand-off with Pragyan Ojha's left-arm spin. The innings polarised the dressing room, as Michael Clarke figured Watson could have batted with more urgency and said so in front of the team, and the pair would bicker over the issue across the match. Others were more generous, and it remains a mystery why Watson could not go on to any other innings like this one. He had concentration, stamina and technique in ample supply this time around. He will forever wonder why there were no other such days.
5 for 17 v South Africa, Cape Town, 2011
For all his expertise with reverse-swinging medium pace, it was in seaming climes that Watson had his most destructive days of all. A pair of five-wicket hauls against Pakistan in England were incisive, but Watson never had the ball on a string quite like he managed against South Africa between lunch and tea on day two of the 2011 Newlands Test. Swinging the ball just enough to beat the bat, he helped usher the tumble of 9 for 47 in 11.1 madcap overs. Hashim Amla, Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis, Ashwell Prince and Mark Boucher all fell to his wiles, which included a zippy bouncer for variation. Watson walked off the ground holding the ball exultantly aloft, and the Australians felt they had won the match there and then. What followed was the loss of another 10 wickets for 47 and arguably the most incomprehensible Test match day of them all, placing Watson's display somewhat in the shade. It was his last big haul in Tests.
88 v South Africa, Johannesburg, 2011
When asked about Watson, one former England player said that he was one of the best players of the conventionally moving ball he ever saw, but also one of the worst against reverse swing. That much was borne out by his mighty tally of lbw dismissals, generally as a result of the ball bending in to hit that ever-so-prominent front pad. But when the ball was moving around in the air or off the seam in the traditional way, Watson's ability to cover his off stump yet also avoid edging too often into the slips was up there with the very best. This innings in Johannesburg came mere days after the Cape Town debacle, in a fine opening stand with Hughes. Simon Katich had brought the best out of Watson at the top of the order, and his batting dropped away unmistakably after the selectors chose to jettison the older man. Hughes and Watson could not make their union work, but at the Wanderers they managed to keep out Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel for more than three hours while adding a handsome 174. The degree of difficulty in this partnership was to be shown by the rush of wickets that followed it, but the foothold Watson and Hughes provided Australia's nervy batsmen allowed them to stay in the game, and a memorable win arrived two days later.
83* v England, Melbourne, 2013
Through the first half of 2013, Watson was nothing so much as a dissident within the national team. His relationship with Clarke and the coach Mickey Arthur was tenuous at best, while he and Mitchell Johnson became an isolated duo within the squad as they queried the way an otherwise young team was being moulded following the exits of Ponting and Michael Hussey. When both were made an example of in Mohali alongside James Pattinson and Usman Khawaja, Watson made it clear he did not agree, and risked his career by repeating his discontents publicly. As subsequent events unfolded, Watson's intransigence looked a vital sign that the team was not in a strong state, and ultimately Darren Lehmann was called in to reshape it after a fashion more suited to all. By the time of the last Test of the year, Australia were celebrating the return of the Ashes, and in Melbourne Watson put together his final innings of major significance, a rollicking knock to help Chris Rogers reel in a fourth innings chase that should have been much more challenging than it proved. There was plenty of warmth in the celebrations when Watson and Rogers finished the chase, for both had emerged as contributors from a time nine months before when neither could reasonably have expected to be playing in the match. As an on-field performer Watson was forever enigmatic, but as a team man his sense of humanity was always strong.