Shane Watson turned a mere warm-up game against West Indies into a personal hymn of redemption as he signalled his return from “the lowest point of my cricket career”. The Australian all-rounder was dropped from the Test side in India for failing to do “homework” set by the coach Mickey Arthur and subsequently resigned the vice-captaincy.
"Whatever happened throughout India was the lowest point in my cricket career, there's no doubt," Watson said. "But we have to move forward as a team because we've got two back-to-back series of the biggest cricket we'll ever play. We've got to find ways to get the best out of ourselves. If we don't, it could be a long 10 months.
"I look back and I certainly would have [handed in my homework], then I wouldn't have been in the situation that I was. Things had been building up unbeknown to me, things that were really affecting certain people in the group but we've had to move on."
The 32-year-old certainly looked to have moved on. The sun, if not the locals, came out to welcome the Australians for their first cricket of this Ashes summer. Those that did turn up were treated to a Watson masterclass – his 135 from 98 balls powered Australia to a four-wicket win.
Watson's innings made a mockery, not just of the West Indies' indolence-infused total of 256, but also the batting contributions of his teammates. He was required in the third over of Australia's reply with the score at 4 for 2. When he departed the score was 197 for 4 and Australia required 60 runs from 114 deliveries. It took 47 balls to finish the job.
In truth, there was little on show from an Ashes perspective to worry England. They know all about Watson, the only mystery is why he does not open. On the batting front, the two men back in pavilion when Watson strode out were Ashes hopefuls David Warner and Philip Hughes. While the West Indian total flattered the two other Ashes bowlers: Mitchell Starc and James Faulkner.
Michael Clarke's men arrived on these shores with a batting line-up scarred by their Indian debacle. Watson aside, how the rested Clarke must have looked enviously in the direction of Derby, where Ricky Ponting was helping himself to a ton on his Surrey debut.
But Clarke's business was in Cardiff, a home from home for touring Australian sides. It was the Australians who played the ground's first international back in 1999. A comparison of the two parties helps explain the sparse crowd – and why England are priced at better than evens to retain the Ashes.
For the brothers Waugh, Adam Gilchrist, Ricky Ponting and Shane Warne in 1999 read David Warner, Adam Voges, Matt Wade, Phil Hughes and Xavier Doherty 14 years on. The locals who had turned up, gathered by the pavilion before play clutching autograph books. But spotting an illustrious name to warrant filling up their blank pages was harder than picking a Glenn McGrath slower ball.
In fairness to the current crop, they had to compete with the British Speedway Grand Prix taking place down the road at the Millennium Stadium. The visiting petrolheads were awarded their own out-of-town park-and-ride. By contrast, you could have driven a herd of Hereford cattle to be valet parked outside the SWALEC. Starc is at least recognisable to the locals after taking wickets for Yorkshire at Glamorgan last season. What wasn't so recognisable in his early overs were the qualities that make him an international standard bowler. His opening over would have failed to strike fear into a Llantwit Major Cavaliers' 2nd XI opener, let alone caused a sweat on Nick Compton's oft-furrowed brow.
On Watson's advice, the 23-year-old was surely immersed in his homework as they travelled across the Severn Bridge. That is the only explanation for how he missed the gigantic signs warning visitors "Paid Taflu Sbwriel" that loomed over the road into Cardiff. Or perhaps he just missed the accompanying English translation, "Do Not Throw Litter".
Yesterday, the teams declined an offer to field all 15 players. As the locals will tell you, there is only one sport in these parts played with 15 men. Although, if Alastair Cook were to make Clarke the same unilateral offer in the Ashes, it could at least make for a more competitive series.
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- Caribbean Islands (west Indies)
- Glenn Mcgrath
- Ricky Ponting
- Shane Warne