The burly all rounder of the Australian side, who is finally seeming to keep good health over larger period of time, Shane Watson is one of the most important player in the present Australian side. His bio data speaks of numerous occurrences of hip injuries, strains, ankle injuries, stress fractures etc, but his determination to fight into the side after every unfortunate injury is commendable.
When the Australian side needed an all rounder, he stepped up to the call and was finally chosen over Andrew Symonds, whose form was dipping, and losing touch, let alone other issues outside the cricketing field. Now, Watson had to show the world that he is capable of cementing his place in the XI on a regular basis, rather than “filling in” for someone else.
After a series of call-ups and drops, being made to play at almost all position in the top and middle order, Watson got a chance to play as an opener, along with Katich. Note, Australia were still looking for their perfect openers ever since the departure of Hayden-Langer combo a few years ago. And this time, Watson capitalised with good scores, and got the preference over Phil Hughes (who vented his anger on twitter...). His bowling improved, he was able to correct his action, so as to prevent any more hip injuries, or at least, reduce the chance of its occurrence. His speed was into the 140 kph marks, and had improved on the trajectory. So, there he was – an all rounder Australia needed. A batsman to get Aus a good start, and a bowler to share the load of the quickies.
Let me try to describe his place in the side. Watson, by nature is a hard hitting batsman. After he became a regular in the test side, he added a bit of calmness and composure to his attitude. He is good on the front foot. He reads the line of the ball early, and has the temperament to leave the swinging ball outside the body. He opens up sideways (chest facing cover/mid off) and meets the in-swinging ball on the front foot, bat in front of the pad when needed, thus reducing the chance for him to get out lbw. His tall nature allows him to come quite some distance outside the crease to meet the ball, hence the full, swinging ball are met before the ball can curve a lot. Having said that he is usually committed to the front foot, he is not troubled by a bouncer. His back-lift is perfect for him to just hang back, stand tall and pull the ball behind or in-front of the square leg as per the pace and height of the delivery. Not very likely to keep the ball down, but very likely to play the ball in the gaps. Suck is his control. He doesn’t play with a sense of urgency. Never seen him do that in tests. He does see off the new ball, and when it comes to spinners, he plays them with the full face of the bat. Strong on the leg side, he can “hoik” any long hop to the cow-corner, or long on. Also, he is good driver of the ball, thanks to his front-footed batting style. So, covers, mid off also come under is radar. Being able to transfer his weight back onto his back foot in time, he is again capable of cutting the ball behind or in-front of the crease, on either side of the pitch. So, now, if you look at the big picture, he can score on all sides. my favourite Watson-shot – straight drive. Clean as you like, and when he plays the shot, you can see the elbows straight over the bat, head behind the ball, bat perfectly straight, and the two fielders at mid on and mid off looking at each other, bowler staring in dismay... It all adds to the beauty of the shot! When someone drives you like that, and watches the ball race to the boundary from the place he played the stroke, bat held stationary in mid air, it calls for the photographer to take a snap of the bat... Its what’s called “Picture-perfect”.
Now, lets move on to his bowling. He is one of the very few bowlers who bowl with the straight seam. When the Lees and Johnsons are exhausted, in comes Watson at first or second change, with the relatively older ball, shine maintained on one side. So, while he can swing the ball even after 20 overs, he is even more dangerous than that because of his ability to get movement off the pitch, due to the ball pitching on the seam on most occasions. In India, he was one of the toughest bowlers to face because of this reason, being helped by the pronounced seam of the SG balls used in India. Lee is full of pace, but his advantage lies in the swing he generates with the new ball at that lethal pace. Mitchell Johnson and Peter Siddle are pretty much one-dimensional with their pace and unidirectional swing. Hilfenhaus is a la McGrath, Bollinger is more of “hit the deck hard” kind of person, and his bowling action doesn’t allow most deliveries to pitch on the seam. So, clearly, Watson distinguishes himself as a unique threat in that line up. His bowling action is steady, smooth, close chested at the stride of the deliver, and high arm action. This allows the ball to be well directed, controlled, seam and bounce. A minute change in the grip allows him to intentionally move the ball in either direction. He has been a disciplined bowler, and hence, scoring off him in the limited over format is not easy, unless you try to take some risks on your own.
Here is Watson’s bowling action for you
To complete the activities of a cricketer on the field, another important factor is – fielding. Watson has accomplished himself as a good slip-fielder after his resurrection into the side a couple of years ago. He takes the place of Warne/Hayden in that zone, and is usually accompanied by Clarke and/or Ponting. And, sometimes, he would be at gully. As compared to the yester-years , this formation shows that Aus is more athletic in the slip cordon and gully (usually manned by Mike Hussey). Earlier, with Hayden, Warne, Ponting standing behind the crease, you cannot make many changes in the field and expect the move to work. Hayden was flat footed, and he had a tough time when posted at gully region. Batsmen used to tuck the ball near the crease and scamper for a single before Hayden could collect the ball. Now, with guys like Watson, Clarke and Hussey, the cordon is more electric than before, and choices are ample when Ponting wants to alter his field for a fresh bowling tactic (like, having a leg slip and silly mid on for Johnson to bowl at a batsman’s ribs). Having been in the business for quite some-time, Watson is a safe catcher, with large palms helping the cause.
All in all, I feel I have illustrated the one player in the Australian team who means the most to the performance of the team, as he is sure to contribute in two ways (at least) in every match he plays. Him not being in the team would mean the loss of a safe-cum-attacking option at the top of the order, and a hostile wicket taking bowler you can always turn to!