As Shane Watson continues to grapple with his role in the Australian side and with off-pitch controversy beginning to engulf him, the all-rounder’s career is reaching a vertex.
It’s hard to believe but it is more than a decade since Shane Watson made his international debut for Australia. In this remarkably long period of time, Watson has excited, frustrated, annoyed and delighted in brutally unequal measure.
Watson has been the antithesis of fulfillment. He is a cricketer with enormous talent, but after 10 years of failing to do justice to what he could become and now with off-pitch trouble rumored to be brewing, his career is reaching a vertex.
For short while, as a plethora of legends in Australian cricket bowed out of the sport, Watson represented a bright future, a multi-faceted, athletic, modern future. His muscular physique, box-office batting and golden-arm bowling were irresistibly appealing. Yet as time has worn on, Watson’s career has, much like Australian cricket in the aftermath of a golden era, spluttered and choked.
There have been fits and starts of brilliance, flashes of excellence, moments of joy, but now, eight years after his Test match debut, the fact that Watson is still being spoken of in terms of “potential” and “talent” says a huge amount about how his international career has panned out.
The crux of the Shane Watson conundrum lies in two areas: injuries and roles.
Watson’s appalling injury record has consistently forced the all-rounder to adjust his expectations and jobs within the Australian side, and we are now at a stage where Watson’s exact role is seemingly eternally transient. No one really knows what and where he should be in the team—and although injuries have been the significant factor towards this confusion, the selectors, management and Watson himself are alll to blame.
It was in the Third Test of the 2009 Ashes series that Watson first opened the batting for Australia, and he had relative success in that position, averaging 43.67 over two years. However, in October 2011 Watson raised concerns whether his body could handle the rigors of regular bowling and opening the batting, but then just days later he said he was ready bat and bowl for Australia before further confusing the issue in February last year when he stated his intention to reclaim the Test opening slot after missing all six home Tests due to injury, as ESPN reports.
According to ESPN, the plot thickened in March as Watson declared he was content at No. 3 because he again expressed difficulties with managing his workload when opening the batting. He admitted in December last year that he was happy batting at No. 4 after his body was increasingly struggling to cope with regular bowling, but despite this said he wanted to push himself to bowl more and more.
He almost captained Australia in the Boxing Day Test, but Michael Clarke passed a late fitness test and played in a match in which Watson was injured whilst bowling and ruled out of the final Test in Sydney. This set-back inspired him to lay claim to the opening slot again, before back tracking and admitting he just wanted to play and wasn’t fussed where he batted, according to Brydon Coverdale of ESPN.
Watson played in India as a non-bowling No. 4 batsman before being dropped from the side for failing to complete a management assignment. It was even suggested that he might quit Test cricket in the aftermath of being axed. This didn’t happen, although he did resign as vice-captain; debate surrounding Watson’s position in the batting order remained until last week when new coach Darren Lehmann confirmed that he will open the batting in the first Ashes Test, starting on July 10.
Thus it can safely be said that William Shakespeare’s Polonius was not referring to Watson’s position when he proclaimed “Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t” in Act 2 of Hamlet. Far from it. There has been no semblance of method in the calamitous handling of the all-rounder or indeed any sense of direction in what Watson has publicly said on the matter and this confusion has certainly hampered the 32-year-old.
How, after all, can one become something without knowing what that something they want to become actually is?
Nothing perhaps represents Watson’s struggles greater than the fact he has played just nine of Australia’s last 19 Test matches, scoring 354 runs at an average of 23.60 and taking four wickets at an average of 54.75. A collection of numbers that demonstrates the fitness record of a wild-boar-fighting poodle, a batting average inferior to fast bowler Mitchell Starc’s and a bowling average inferior to batsman Michael Clarke’s—these are not the statistics of the stellar all-rounder many believe he is capable of becoming.
To add to Watson’s recent on-field woes, there have been grumblings that Watson has been dissatisfied with the management and team administration, especially in light of being dropped in India. Moreover, claims have been made that the relationship between Watson and captain-supreme Clarke is increasingly frosty, and it has even been suggested that David Warner’s ban for clashing with Joe Root was as harsh as it was, in part due to Watson’s enthusiasm for a punishment corresponding with the one he received back in India.
In amongst swathes of rumour, debate and controversy, and as The Ashes quickly approaches, what is certain is that Watson’s time of reckoning is upon him. As a senior figure in the team, the 32-year-old should be a player acting responsibly and one Australia can rely on for strong performances.
However, Australia’s Ashes campaign has already threatened to derail, and although Tour expectations must be adjusted, a heavy series loss could see more heads roll; if Watson doesn’t arrest his current slump, with the shadow of young all-rounder James Faulkner looming ever larger, the man once tipped for greatness could see his Test career cut brutally short.
The time is now for Watson to seize the day; if he doesn’t it may well be too late.