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'I missed bowling in Chennai' - Watson

As India's batsmen piled on runs in Chennai, Watson was itching to take the ball confirming in his mind that giving up bowling wouldn't be a permanent move

Brydon Coverdale
Brydon Coverdale
Shane Watson bears a frustrated look as Sri Lanka batsmen continue to thwart the attack, Australia v Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Hobart, 5th day, December 18, 2012

Shane Watson: "The decision I made is more a longer-term decision to get some running and conditioning into my legs, so when I start bowling again, my body has more chance of handling it"  •  Getty Images

If Shane Watson's commitment to playing as a batsman only on this tour was ever going to be tested, standing in the field for 154.3 overs during India's the first innings in Chennai was the time. As the runs piled up for India and Australia's attack struggled for impact they missed Watson's bowling, and Watson missed being part of it. But he said while the possibility of bowling later on the tour had crossed his mind, he knew that for the sake of his fitness and form, he had to stick to his plan.
Over the past few years in Test cricket, Watson has had a happy knack of breaking partnerships and an unhappy habit of breaking down. His most recent injury, the problem with his left calf that ruled him out of the third Test against Sri Lanka in January and the one-day series that followed, prompted him to declare that he would give up bowling for the Test tour of India to concentrate on his batting, and on stringing together as much cricket as he could.
Having missed the whole of the previous Australian Test summer due to calf and hamstring injuries, and then the Brisbane and Adelaide Tests against South Africa, Watson decided his best option was to temporarily give up bowling. As India's batsmen put on a series of frustrating partnerships in Chennai, Watson was itching to take the ball and he said the experience had confirmed in his mind that giving up bowling would not be a permanent move.
"That was a time that reaffirmed to me that I do want to bowl," Watson said. "That was a time where if I hadn't have made the decision not to bowl for this tour that I could have had some input on the game at a crucial time in the match. That to me was the first time over the last month since I came back that I missed bowling.
"The decision I made is more a longer-term decision to get some running and conditioning into my legs, so when I start bowling again, my body has more chance of handling it. I do appreciate the decision but it certainly reaffirmed to me that I'm never going to give up bowling. It excites me having some input on the game, especially when what I do could have an influence on a certain part of the game."
For the time being, Watson's plan is to resume bowling during the second half of the IPL with the ultimate goal of being able to contribute with the ball during Australia's Ashes tour of England in July and August. He said while the thought of bowling at some point on the Indian tour was tempting - he has taken 12 wickets at 33.41 in his past six Tests in the country - he was resigned to the fact that his existing plan was a better long-term idea.
"That thought has gone through my mind a few times but I suppose we do have to stay on course," Watson said. "There were reasons why I made that decision - to try and get my body conditioned enough to get back into my bowling.
"I know I've needed two or three months just to be able to get some conditioning into my body, to then hopefully hold together for the next period of time once I get back bowling again. There is a big reason why I'm not bowling at the moment - in between the Test matches to get some running into my legs to continue to build that resilience, so I can hopefully just stay together."
In committing to his long-term plan to stay on the field, Watson took advice from Cricket Australia's medical staff as well as his personal physio, Viktor Popov, and it was made after discussing the idea with the captain Michael Clarke. The bowling issue came to a head after the Hobart Test against Sri Lanka, when Watson bowled 47.4 overs, easily the most he had ever sent down in a game, and he struggled with his calf in the next Test.
"I took a lot of information in at the time, especially through the summer having the same calf injury again and also the amount I bowled in Hobart, that was the most I've ever bowled in my career in four or five-day cricket," Watson said. "I knew my body could handle it, it was more so backing up to handle it again. I had to get the right conditioning in my legs, things like running technique, doing all those things to give myself a better chance to hold together my body when I'm bowling.
"But I also need to be more careful in the future about the overs I do bowl. One, I have the chance to do it more consistently and have less chance of injury but also there were times when it affected my batting, more so in Test cricket over the last 12 to 18 months, especially when I was opening. There were a number of reasons why I made that decision, most importantly is trying to score some runs in Test cricket as well."
To that end, Watson has been working in the nets on his footwork, with the intention of being able to come down the pitch to India's spinners rather than simply playing back as he has on previous tours of India. He made 84 and 60 during the warm-up match against India A and showed encouraging glimpses in the first Test but was unable to build a big score, falling for 28 in the first innings and 17 in the second.

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