Australia is, without a doubt, among the most exciting international sides to watch. In the test arena, their glowing journey in cricket attracted worldwide fame. While the Aussies were sublime in attack and defense during test matches, their game touched lofty heights even in the one day international arena.
Under Ricky Ponting, they claimed the International Cricket World Cup twice (in 2003 and 2007), and won the tournament a record 5 times in all, a feat that no other team has matched since the tournament’s inception in 1975.
Australia has for long been the team you beat in order to become a legend. In the process of competing with stalwarts of the game, their own contestants have emerged as great players. Competing against the likes of the Waugh brothers, McGrath, Gilchrist, Healy, Warne, Fleming, Bevan, and in the more recent past Hayden, Brett Lee, Clarke, Johnson and Shane Watson has never been easy.
Cricket Australia's decisiveness
Equally enterprising and decisive in its ability to judge players on merit, form and current fitness, the astute thinking Cricket Australia is respected worldwide for churning out world class cricketers, and notorious for their cold-shouldered shrug given to players who seem to be losing their 'element'. Through this wise and sometimes reactionary tactic, Cricket Australia has in the past given place to players whose impact carried Aussie cricket to great heights.
But was it one of these cold blooded decisions that did Shane Watson's test career in, or was it the giant all rounder's withering body that gave way in the face of the rigors required to survive at the highest cricketing level? We will never know for sure!
The 34 year Queenslander drew the curtains on a test career that featured only 59 test matches, a painfully small number considering his career started way back in 2005. In a team known to produce quality all rounders - think of Steve Waugh, Ian Harvey (more bowler than big-hit batsman), Tom Moody and Andrew Symonds - Shane Watson was the real star, an all rounder who made a name for himself for injecting much needed passion and flair into an Australian set-up already filled with a rich (if aging) harvest of quality cricketers.
Shane on Watson. You could have done so much more
Watson finished without any substantial highs in the test format, claiming 75 scalps when he could have done a lot better in his 59 test appearances. His batting was known for his natural gift of timing and the muscular power with which he took bowlers to the sword. And he did so on many occasions, save the last 2 years where his horrific inconsistencies with the bat certainly let his team down, an outfit that looked up to him as a potential match savior.
3700 test runs at an average of 35.6 with a highest score of 176. Many would feel these figures might give Shane some respite at the end of the tumultuous, injury prone journey that saw him warming the bench more often than not, but is this really enough for an “outstanding talent” in the highest form of cricket? Probably not.
The clean striking batsman and effective medium pacer from Ipswich played his last test match at Cardiff in the Ashes. This series was notable mostly for aging Aussie woes and retirement announcements, most significantly that of skipper Michael Clarke. Not only were Australia thumped in the English backyard, some of their best batsmen, including Clarke himself, Steven Smith, David Warner had their weaknesses exposed, most notably the dangers of fiddling with rising deliveries and a failure at judging the length of the real good ball. The Aussies went down, looking like a frail unit, and Shane Watson seemed just as bad.
Complexities and looking out of touch
Tired despite, or rather due to, his muscles; withered by the frequent calf and hamstring injuries; constantly hearing calls for his ouster at the test level. Shane's personal form was at its most nightmarish in the highly anticipated Ashes series, where his ingenious talent would have surely played a great hand in saving Australia from its humiliating string of losses, but it wasn't to be.
Still, it wasn't Watson's lack of runs or wickets that led to his ouster, which eventually and definitely came as sad news. It was the sheer lack of competitiveness on the part of a player of his class that hurt more. Watto clearly seemed to lack the fight required to grind it out in the middle.
With those sterling cover drives and that magnificent straight hit down the ground in his brief knock of 39, just when he seemed to be finding his lost groove, Watson got done in by his failure to pick the in-swinging delivery.
To his naysayers, and there are quite a few, Watson's wicket was one of the easiest to claim. It was a stark contrast to his glory days, when the big muscled, big hitting batsman all rounder withstood all storms fired by the bowlers.
It wasn't that Watson lacked the fire-power. He always gave hundred percent for his side. He took body blows, survived intense pace attacks and screamed at dropped catches off his bowling.
Watson has been a great competitor and yet a prime case of potential talent never quite coming to highest impact. His was an infamously incomplete script that left a lot to be desired. Like a star cast boasting great acting talents ultimately sinking due to an inconsistent and foggy-minded narrative, Watson's test career was defined by his mesmeric talent, for it had all important elements save that of consistency. The lack of consistency in both performance and fitness ultimately brought to dust one of Australia's most lethal players, whose success would have earned the Aussies more rewards than just the Ashes urn.
What to expect of what's remaining in Watson
Watson, one of the best reverse swing bowlers from Australia, was also the weakest whilst facing the same. He just couldn't quite manage deliveries that came in and struck his body. He has for the record missed almost 50 Test matches due to his constantly occurring injuries. Watson's fine bowling action didn't deliver pace in a rapid explosion, but had tenacity and control. His 3 five wicket hauls do little justice to his great bowling talent.
What will become of his one day international and rewarding T20 career remains to be seen. One believes he still has the natural inclination and passion to deliver great performances for his side in those formats. But, as he hopes to elongate a career that has already been marred by injuries, one would expect the winner of the prized Allan Border Medal (2010, 2011) to remember his limits.
Cricket is made eternal by the indomitable will of players who carve epic sculptures out of the ordinary. It is a contest you win or lose depending on if your mind is in the right frame. Where frame is concerned, Watson's fragile, muscular chassis is powerful enough. But can he be strong and fight his inner demons? We shall see in the days to come.