The average IPL fan may not pick Shane Watson among their top three players of all time in the IPL, but he does lay a strong claim to that status. He has been the Most Valued Player in the IPL twice; he has more hundreds than most other batsmen in the tournament, barring Chris Gayle and Virat Kohli; and, as the 2018 IPL final showed, Watson has a habit of turning up for the big games. Yet he may not spring to mind as an obvious candidate for the top three because his contributions are often split across batting and bowling and do not always come with the spectacle of a traditional milestone of a hundred or a five-for.
While it is not unusual to give the Man-of-the-Match award to a hundred or a five-for in a winning cause in the longer formats, it is often a fall-back option in T20 cricket when there's no immediately obvious match-turning effort to reward. The rarity of hundreds and fifers increases their perceived value in T20s. They are often not the most influential contributions in a match. ESPNcricinfo's Smart Stats looks beyond these conventional notions to credit performances that are truly impactful in the context of the match.
According to Smart Stats, Watson has had the highest impact by any player on the outcome of a match on 23 different occasions in the IPL - eight more than the 15 Man-of-the-Match awards he has won. With one such stellar effort in roughly every six games, Watson is the third-most impactful player of the IPL.
The graphic lists Watson's top five highest impact performances in the IPL, according to Smart Stats. While the top four are instances where Watson was also the official Player of the Match, the fifth was overshadowed by a century from Kohli, who was also the official Player of the Match. Smart Stats identifies this instance among the eight matches in which Watson has played a bigger role than any other player.
In this Royal Challengers Bangalore match against Rising Pune Supergiants in 2016, Kohli's Batting Impact was comfortably greater than anyone else's, but Watson's all-round impact was greater than Kohli's. In an innings in which nearly every other bowler went for ten runs an over, Watson bowled four overs for 24, taking the wickets of Ajinkya Rahane, MS Dhoni and George Bailey during the challenging 16th and 19th overs. Watson's impact with the ball in the match was valued at 121, almost 20% more than the bowler with the next highest impact. With the bat, Watson hit a quick 13-ball 36 and his impact with the bat was valued at 87 - second-highest after Kohli's. However, Watson's Total Impact in the match of 208 (Batting Impact + Bowling Impact) comfortably beat Kohli's.
Playing for Rajasthan Royals in 2014, against Kolkata Knight Riders in Ahmedabad, Watson's triple strikes derailed the chase in the 15th over, but it was spinner Pravin Tambe who got the Player-of-the-Match award for his hat-trick in the 16th. Chasing 171, KKR were cruising at 121 without loss when Watson dismissed the openers, Gautam Gambhir and Robin Uthappa, on 65 and 54, respectively, and then Andre Russell (admittedly not yet the power-hitting giant he was to become). These important wickets turned the tide of the game. Add Watson's 31 off 20 balls to it to get a Total Impact in the match of 145, which was comfortably ahead of Tambe's 114.
Such all-round efforts tend to be overlooked when we size up Watson's claim as one of the all-time IPL greats. That is not to say that Watson hasn't had his own share of match-winning efforts that have grabbed our attention, but Smart Stats takes into account these not very obvious, yet telling, contributions to rate Watson at No. 3 in the all-time list of the most impactful players in the IPL.
ESPNcricinfo stats team