Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Shane Watson - It's Not Your Bloody Decision!

For the past seven years, various captains, coaches and selection panels have been trying their utmost to shoehorn Shane Watson into the Test team, at any cost, including the very success of the team itself.

Just days before the start of the 2006/07 Ashes series in Brisbane, Shane Watson had been inked in to bat at six and bowl overs, and Mitch Johnson was preparing for his Test debut. In the weeks leading up to this Test, Watson has let it be known that he thinks he is the man to open the batting in the Test team, given that Justin Langer appears out of sorts.Many thought this to be foolhardy. I certainly did.
Then (surprise, surprise) Watson got injured during training, and was unfit for the match. Michael Clarke came in to replace him, and Stuart Clark was chosen instead of Johnson because of his perceived accuracy as against Johnson's waywardness. As a result, Clarke averaged more than 50 for the series, Clark topped the bowling, and Australia won the series 5-0. Thank goodness for small mercies.

Shoot forward to 2009. Australia lose the 2nd Test at Lord's for the first time in almost a hundred years, after their bowlers were unable to finish off England's tail in the 1st Test. England lead the series 1-0 when, realistically, Australia should be at least 1-0 up. Wunderkind Phil Hughes, who just months earlier became the youngest batsman to score centuries in each innings of a Test match, is suddenly usurped in order to fit in Shane Watson, a middle-order all-rounder of sorts, into the side as an opening batsman. Watson has again been sending around the message that he is ready to be Australia's opening batsman, and has now somehow fulfilled that prophecy. The result of the series is again decided by selections, though this time by leaving out a spinner on the dusty track at The Oval, Australia surrender the Ashes. One can only imagine how Hughes' confidence has been shattered by his swift removal from the team despite still averaging over 45 in Test cricket.

Over the next two years and a half years he played 16 Tests, scoring 1456 runs at 50.20 with the bat with two centuries, and 29 wickets at 27.72 with the ball. His problem continued to be his inability to convert starts into big scores, and the constant threat of breaking down when he bowled. In essence, he did not make the most of the good form he showed.

Now though, he seems to be playing on fumes. In the last two years, he has played 12 Tests, scoring just 611 runs at 27.77, with no centuries. No one who has played in that period has survived the axe with a similar record. Phil Hughes was dropped after 11 Tests brought 563 runs at 28.15 (before his re-appearance in December). Marcus North managed 14 Tests with a return of 644 runs at 29.27. Usman Khawaja was given just 6 Tests for his 263 runs at 29.22. Shaun Marsh cobbled together 7 Tests for 301 runs at 27.36.

None of these mentioned players has a worse record than Shane Watson. Of course, up until now, the captain/coach/selectors have always harped on that it is his all-round skills that he is chosen for, the fact that his more-than-handy bowling is essential to the team's balance. But now Watson/coach/selectors are making sure the media knows that he wants to be selected as a batsman only, and that he feels he is the person to open the batting again. The NERVE of this guy!! It obviously isn't enough that he has received preferential treatment at the hands of the selectors in the past, now he is starting up the machine once again in an attempt to find his way back into the Test team.
It isn't unheard of for allrounders to eventually give away their bowling due to injury and concentrate on their batting. Steve Waugh is the obvious example of this. Of course, at the time Waugh was averaging about 60 with the bat in Test cricket, and his place was assured.
And so Watson has targeted Ed Cowan's place in the Test team. Cowan has received some grief of late because he averages in the mid-thirties (like Watson), but doesn't dominate attacks in the way that Watson apparently does. Cowan has scored 722 runs at 32.81 in his 13 Tests. While that isn't startling, is it worth of being replaced by a batsman who has averaged less than that over the past two years?
There is no doubt that it would be preferential for the team if the opening partnership contained a left and a right handed batsman. That would be one of the things in the selectors mind as they weigh up this 'dilemma'.

In the long run, what makes me angry about all of this is that on the surface, it looks as though one player who has fairly average stats in Test cricket is constantly getting a better deal than every other player in and outside of the Test team. The stats above show that every other batsman who has similar statistics has been excused from the team, bar one.

With Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey now both gone from the Australian team, it is now time for a complete revamp, and that means making Shane Watson earn his recall to the Teat team through weight of runs in first class cricket. Until he has proven he can do this, AND not get injured in the process, he should not be selected.

Of course, you and I know that that isn't going to happen...

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