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The lion with a quiet roar

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Shane_Watson_Australia_cricketIt isn't easy to describe an all rounder. They are a complex breed. With much to offer from both departments of the game, at times they become complex riddles in their sheer brilliance. They leave audiences exasperated at their stats whilst ducking away under the garb of contributions on the cricketing turf.

You can take Kallis for example. He conquered best bowling attacks and bamboozled batsmen with asking deliveries and what has he left behind? A sterling legacy with hardly any trace of the man behind arguably South Africa's greatest cricketer ever? He's hidden somewhere behind those heroics. Quite similar, we have Sobers unlike a Lara or Warne. Instead of discussing his personality like you would in his compatriot's case or for the Aussie, you would focus on the numbers.

You remember an all round cricketer for his astonishing contributions, but less for his personality as there's less scope for words coming into play, the essence lying in all the work. Like a construction worker, an all round cricketer lets the tools and equipment augment expression. He is that actionable verb in a sentence that frames the story perfectly. Focused, resilient, the gentlest breeze with which the ball is left to be collected by the keeper carries more noise than the all-rounder can make.

Shane Watson didn't belong to this reticent breed of all rounders. He was neither outspoken, nor a muted spectator of the action. He was honest and economical with words, a bit unlike his bowling in the latter half of his career. But there was an energy, an emotion about being Shane Watson that epitomized his mercurial and somewhat sketchy time with Australia.

In Watson's case, the stats scream of a tale that was sort of incomplete. Like a truly great script that became a victim of many pauses and frequent plot changes, eventually colliding with a sudden end. It leaves you desiring more because there was so much potential in the tale.

A tremendously talented cricketer, Watson was expressive with both bat and ball. Unlike many all rounders who favour one or the other, taking either the batsman who can bowl or vice-versa, Watson did both equally well despite his frame.

He had a bit of everything for viewers - ecstasy for his powerful striking, excitement for his wicket taking abilities, pain for missing out several playing opportunities and a hope for redeeming himself that went sour. Here was a cricketer who seemed so complete and promising that, in his proclivity for hard work, he ended up tearing himself down.

 

Watson's stats aren't by any stretch of imagination spectacular but aren't any unimpressive either. Rather, they leave you impressed and somewhat disappointed. Consider this: how did a man of his caliber, having accumulated over 9400 international runs with 13 centuries and 243 wickets and an exciting batting strike rate, end up playing just 59 Tests and less than 200 limited over games for Australia? He wasn't a byproduct of genius and great fortune, but was a handy competitive cricketer who seemed heroic and princely on a good day. Watson had both flair and firepower to alter the destiny of a game in his sides' favor.

On top of it, he had a tremendous work ethic that saw him rise to the top of a starlit Australian line up, having being accommodated in the lower middle order when he began.

But unlike the destiny of other scintillating talents, who had to rise above the opposition in order to truly realize themselves, Watson was courting a different battle. In order to become the best version of himself, till the very end, Watson had to conquer his own body and his terrible entanglement with injuries. With recurrent back fractures from the onset of 2006, there were hamstring strains, calf problems and hip pains that kept the lion from running down the enemy.

At his best, Watson was an imposing figure cut loose to trample the adversary, taking blows after blows, soldiering on despite braving many an onslaught but ultimately slipping from the weight of his own expectations. He showed this bravery in his charismatic 136* against England in the semi-finals that fetched Australia a final spot in the Champions trophy in 2009. Carrying forward the momentum, he struck a glitzy 105 against New Zealand in the finals ensuring that the crown decorated only Australia's head. Even when he struck his mastery 185 against Bangladesh, an encounter in which Watson was at his pomp, flexing those muscles and giving crowds every bit of their penny's worth on his way to striking 15 sixes, he was languishing from cramps and under stress.

It‘s never easy to be a regular feature in an Australian line-up and it has to be said, that Watson came a long way from being once the frizzy-haired youngster from Ipswich bearing a physique best fit for photo shoots to becoming the glue of an Australian line up that got everyone together. He was every bit the team-man that you wanted him to be. And he shouldered responsibilities without a grin.

Till the end of his career, he was every bit intense and focused as he had been when he began. The injuries continued and slowed his rabid pace, affecting ultimately his nagging accuracy as the bowler. Watson with the white ball in hand had receded to platonic lows often experimenting too much with the short ball and going for runs as quickly as he accumulated them. But in that long hoppy run up to the popping crease, Watson wasn't cheated by the enthusiasm and the charm for representing Australia nor was he burdened by the expectations his fans had of him.

Most cricketers have class and function on consistency. Watson, despite being inconsistent had both class and character, something that made him both a tenacious competitor and a somewhat jaded revolutionary. Revolutionary because he hinted at brilliance with both bat and ball and jaded because his hulk-like frame was a bit overpowering for him to go the long distance. And in here lies Watson's enigma. Despite going through constant turnstiles in physical health, Watson did bravely enough to let it not hamper his free stroking ways. Till as recently as the year beginning of 2016, Watson's bat had the dynamite power and his brilliance knew no blithe.

How often do we see a player sidelined by injuries, carry his bat as a T20 opener having crossed a ton in the game's shortest format? In his 124* against India, Watson hurried Australia to 197 which was ultimately bettered by Virat Kohli's India. But even in his defeats, Watson proved a point! He may have been injured but wasn't tormented in spirit.

He may have been broken, but never defeated. Shane Watson will continue to inspire generations for his tireless legacy to international cricket, wilted at times, but never in loss of dedication or determination.

 

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