It is unfair and hurtful to describe Shane Watson as a cancer in the Australian team. He is actually more like a common cold. He clogs the system, causes an ache and annoys many of the people with whom he makes contact.
Watson is an enigma at the top of the Australia batting order. His strengths are clear. He plays with a vertical bat, he has a bazooka of a straight drive and he appears as comfortable and effective against the new ball as anyone in the game. Yet his flaws have a far-reaching impact in an Australia team saddled with the most brittle top order in a generation.
Watson gets out lbw in 30 per cent of his dismissals. No batsman to play as many as Watson’s 43 Tests equals that figure. His strength is his weakness. That powerful front leg plants down the pitch, the heavy bat sweeps through but has to go around the pad rather than through the ball and a delivery that a more nimble-footed batsman would pick off through midwicket becomes a deadly missile screaming in through a tiny gap in an otherwise impregnable defence.
Watson also gets out between 30 and 60 in 35 per cent of his innings. No regular batsman in Test history comes close to such a proportion of innings that offer so much yet, ultimately, deliver so little.
It is unclear whether Watson’s technique changes after a certain period of his innings to reflect a subconscious level of contentment at what has been achieved so far.
Could it be fatigue? Watson lumbers around the field like a milk truck rattling and clinking under its load rather than an elite athlete straining muscle and sinew in joyous exertion.
He has faced 100 balls in an innings just 19 times in his career and only twice gone beyond 200. Watson’s former opening partner Simon Katich, a more durable but less explosive batsman, provides a powerful contrast. Katich stayed for more than 100 deliveries on 36 occasions and went past 200 eight times in just a handful more innings than Watson.
Yet are those statistical revelations anything more than anomalies – snapshots that reveal an insight about a batsman but not necessarily a truth? After all, batsmen have to get out some way. And regular departures in the 30s or 40s may be frustrating but are they any more infuriating than spreading a career across a full wagon wheel of scores?
Watson’s judgment while batting is a greater cause for concern than his mode of dismissal or the raw number of runs he accumulates.
He reviewed an lbw decision at Trent Bridge that looked comprehensively out to the naked eye and the initial television replays but was shown to be a marginal call once the full battalion of technology was brought to bear on the imagery.
He reviewed again at Lord’s. Again it looked out but there was to be no TV reprieve to a delivery that was pitching in line and would have hit midway up the timber.
The problem for Australia was not just the loss of an important batsman but the ripple effect from the poorly conceived review. It became apparent within minutes.
Chris Rogers was in two minds when he was struck by a full toss somewhere near the stumps. He must have suspected a review might save him, but with one referral already lost and the captain and best batsman still to come, he would have been a brave man to put his own survival ahead of the team’s best interests.Having lost sight of the ball, Rogers required clear advice from his partner, but Usman Khawaja, playing his first Test in 19 months, appeared incapable of offering anything coherent.
Common colds are rarely deadly but they do muddle thinking. Australia had a bad dose yesterday and no amount of sniffling can change that.
John Townsend is Cricket Writer for The West Australian