Return of Shane Watson is not good news for India and Sri Lanka

Shane Watson’s multiple skills make him a huge asset for Australia © Getty Images

By Nishad Pai Vaidya

 

The Ricky Ponting saga hogged the limelight as a result of which Shane Watson’s return to the Australian One-Day International (ODI) team has gone almost unnoticed. The talismanic all-rounder’s comeback to international cricket after a long lay-off due to injury is a huge morale boost for the Australians who are looking to seal a place in the finals of the Commonwealth Bank tri-series.

 

Watson is an all-rounder par excellence who adds tremendous balance to the side. From batting lower down, he was asked to open the innings, where he has been brilliant. As a batsman, he has the ability to crush any attack on his day. But despite being a strokeplayer, he has the ability to play the long innings.

As a bowler, Watson is accurate and productive. He isn’t just somebody who tries to fill in the overs, but is a serious customer who is brought in to attack the batsman. He has eased the pressure on Australia’s frontline bowlers by being a partnership breaker.

An attacking opening batsman and a steady pace bowler make Watson a complete package – an asset for Australia.

 

Watson’s last outing in international cricket was during the tour to South Africa in November last year. Since then, his hamstring injury kept him out of the entire summer of Test cricket Down Under. His recovery has taken time and his return may be quicker than one would have thought, but one can say that it was planned out well and the decision was taken only after he had game time under his belt.

 

Earlier this month, he started playing grade cricket in Sydney and followed it up with a first-class game for New South Wales last week. He had decent outings in both the games and has bowled a fair number of overs to suggest that he is match-fit.

 

It is interesting to see where Watson would fit in the Australian batting order. The seven batsmen they fielded against India at Brisbane were: Matthew Wade, David Warner, Ricky Ponting, Peter Forrest, Michael Hussey, David Hussey and Daniel Christian. Michael Clarke returns to the squad and would replace Ponting. On the other hand, the other six batters have proven their worth and it would be a tough call to drop one.

 

Wade has been consistent at the top and has shown the ability to hit and also spend time at the crease. Warner didn’t have a good start to the series, but looked good against India at Brisbane. He is the future of Australian cricket and dropping him to accommodate Watson wouldn’t be the right move. Forrest and the Hussey brothers stake their claims on the strength of some brilliant performances in the series.

 

In all probability, Christian would have to bear the brunt of the axe. He has shown how destructive he can be with the bat in the late overs, but Watson’s superior all-round ability would supersede Christian’s claims. Christian was considered by some commentators as the weak-link in the Australian attack and the opposition batsmen could chance their arms against him. In contrast, Watson provides a formidable bowling option and that should edge out Christian.

 

The other question: What position would Watson bat? Wade has looked like the first to go down the order. They dropped him down for the Adelaide ODI against India and that spoilt his rhythm a bit. At the top of the order, Wade has looked at home and it would be a mistake to demote him. Warner too would be at his best while opening the innings. Thus, the position Watson would have to fit in would be No 3. Clarke would have bat at four and the rest dropping down a number. The higher they bat Watson, the better it would be. Nevertheless, it wouldn’t do any good to disturb the ongoing partnership for various reasons.

 

India and Sri Lanka would be wary of the reinforced Australia. Watson’s presence at the top has added firepower to their batting and one may see him accelerating the scoring whenever he gets to bat. Secondly, the tourists wouldn’t be able to take their chances while batting in the middle overs if Watson replaces Christian. Watson would be more accurate and keep things tighter when compared to Christian.

 

The two defeats may have sent jitters down the Australian ranks, but the strong performance against India has put them back on track. Watson’s return has bolstered that charge and these are ominous signs for India and Sri Lanka. All they can do is hope that he is a bit rusty!

 

(Nishad Pai Vaidya, a 21-year-old law student, is a club and college-level cricketer. His teachers always complain, “He knows the stats and facts of cricket more than the subjects we teach him.”)