Why Shane Watson is the best all-rounder in cricket in over 50 years

Shane Watson has played 36 Tests, 154 ODIs and 36 Twenty20s for Australia © Getty Images

There has been a lot of talk, especially amongst Australian fans, that Shane Watson isn’t good enough to make the team, or they want him to bat at No 7 or 8, or lower. Let’s see how good Watson is, and why he is the Australia‘s best ever all-rounder.

Firstly, let’s look at his statistics:

  Tests  ODIs  T20Is  First Class 
Batting average  36.92 41.48 30.62 44.11
Bowling average  29.2 28.83 20.42 27.69
Strike rate    88.27 148.48  
Economy rate    4.8 7.19  

That equates to +7.72 in Tests, +12.65 in ODIs, +10.20 in T20s, +16.42 in FC.

The first test of the quality all-rounder is that they have a higher batting average than bowling average. Watson easily accomplishes this. The second test is that they bowl regularly — Watson has bowled in 90 per cent of innings that he has played in, across all formats (which is why someone like Michael Clarke, who bowls less than 10 per cent of the time, cannot be considered an all-rounder). The third test is that they take wickets regularly — Watson has 35 wicket-innings in 36 Test matches. The fourth test is that they score big runs regularly — Watson has scored two Test centuries and 18 half centuries across 36 matches and 66 innings.
 
There is no question that, as it stands, Watson has performed better in T20s and ODIs than in Tests. +12.65 in ODIs and +10.20 in T20s are a lot better than +7.72 in Tests. Not to mention that his batting strike rate of 88.27 in ODIs and an amazing 148.48 in T20s are very impressive. But +7.72 is still pretty good. And his First-Class record, of +16.42, suggests that he can improve. +16.42 is up there with the best in the world.
 
Watson is also ranked amongst the best all-rounders in the world. In tests, Jacques Kallis is the undisputed number 1, but in ODIs and T20s Watson is either first or second, sometimes behind Bangladesh’s best ever player, Shakib al Hasan. And there is no shame in being behind Shakib!
 
Watson has won matches with the bat and with the ball.
 
Now, let’s compare him with other great all-rounders in Australian cricket.
 
In the past 30 years, or in my living memory and the living memory of most people reading this, the following players have been tried in Australia as all-rounders:
 
Andrew Symonds – Did okay in ODIs and was good at times in T20s but really struggled in Tests and was unable to take regular wickets. He rarely bowled, and when he did it was mainly just to support the regular bowlers. Not really an all-rounder but more a batsman who bowled a bit.
 
Greg Matthews – Was meant to be a bowler who could bat a bit but ended up with a Test batting average of just over 40 and, unfortunately, his bowling average was about the same. Was carried most of the time and not particularly useful.

Steve Waugh – Believe it or not, Waugh started off as an all-rounder. He didn’t bat particularly well and while his bowling was useful, it wasn’t great. He turned it around and ended up with a great batting average — largely because he stopped bowling. Injuries led to him often being unable to bowl. Not truly an all-rounder because he didn’t bowl often enough.
 
Mark Waugh – Bowled a bit more often than Steve Waugh but mostly it was just to ease the workload of the regular bowlers. Didn’t do enough to be considered a true all-rounder; rather, he was a batsman who bowled a bit.
 
Simon O’Donnell – Most well known for surviving cancer, and for tonking it, he wasn’t a particularly good bowler and was a mediocre batsman, albeit one who could smash it a mile.
 
Now, going back a bit further, Australia did have proper all-rounders, so let’s compare Watson to them as well:
 
Richie Benaud – Similar style to Andrew Symonds in that he batted and bowled and also bowled both pace and spin, though Symonds went one further by also being able to bowl both left and right-handed. He is incorrectly recorded in the stats books as a spinner only; yet, he was well known to bowl part of an over with pace and the other part with spin. His canny tactics — including changing his bowling action — led to great results for the team but personally he averaged just 24 with the bat and 28 with the ball, or -4 overall, which is far worse than Watson.
 
Alan Davison – Played at the same time as Benaud, some 50 years ago, and ended up with pretty good returns, though he wasn’t really much of a batsman. He ended up with an average of 24 with the bat and just 20 with the ball, or +4 overall, superior to Benaud, but few regard him as better than the latter. He never scored a Test century and never won Australia a game with his bat.
 
And then there is the one true contender to Watson’s title as the greatest ever all-rounder in Australia:
 
Keith Miller – Averaged 36 with the bat and 22 with the ball, +14, ahead of Watson’s +7, and he was +26 in First-Class cricket (48 and 22). He formed an opening bowling team in 55 Tests, taking three wickets per Test, and also batted at No 4. A true fast bowler who, unlike Watson, didn’t break down.
 
So why do I consider Watson to be superior to Miller?
 
It is easy to say that Watson is better than the others. But Miller is a tough one. Perhaps this is the thing — Miller didn’t play all that often, just 55 Tests, and hence didn’t suffer the kind of injuries that Watson did. He also didn’t bowl all that often.
 
Look, maybe Miller is superior, but Watson single-handedly won Australia four matches in a row in the recent World T20 and all but took them to the title.
 
If I just consider Tests, sure, Miller is ahead. I’d like to think that Watson will improve. I think that Watson should finish with a Test batting average of 50, or at least mid-40s, and a Test bowling average of around 27 or 28 (i.e. about what it is now). But what sets Watson ahead is his ability in ODIs and T20s, where he has been amazing.
 
Even considering this, Watson is still a long way behind the two greatest of all time, Sobers and Kallis. He is even behind at least three of the four great all-rounders of the 1980s in Richard Hadlee, Imran Khan and Ian Botham, though he may be ahead of Kapil Dev.
 
I can say without hesitation that Watson is the best all-rounder in over 50 years. At worst, he is the second-best of all time for Australia, behind Keith Miller. But I’d like to think that, considering ODIs and T20s, he is actually ahead.

(Adrian Meredith, an Australian from Melbourne, has been very passionate about cricket since he was seven years old. Because of physical challenges he could not pursue playing the game he so dearly loved. He loves all kinds of cricket – from Tests, ODIs, T20 – at all levels and in all countries and writes extensively on the game)