It’s elementary, Watson.
Should Watson give up bowling? Is Watson good enough to be selected as specialist batsman with a test average of only 37? Should Watson be opening or batting down the order? Why hasn’t Watson scored more test centuries? Should Watson give up the short forms to focus on staying fit for test matches? The questions come with relative ease, the answers on the other hand aren’t as straight-forward.
Initially, lets just focus on this one question.
Is Shane Watson good enough to be selected as specialist batsman with a test average of only 37?
To begin with I want to ignore his average – yes, it is unusual for a top-order Australian batsman to be averaging less than 45, but stranger things have happened. For instance, 5 years ago who would have predicted that David Warner would be a test opener?
In a sign of the relative inexperience of the current Australian line-up, Watson with just 35 tests to his name is still the 4th most experienced player – not just batsman – in the current squad. He’d also have a whole lot more experience if not for the 49 tests (as pointed out by Brydon Coverdale on Twitter) he’s missed since debut, most of those due to injury.
After these 35 tests, how does he compare to his current peers – Ponting, Clarke and Watson – at similar points of their careers? Well, based purely on the numbers – ignoring factors like age, opponents, locations etc. – you might be surprised how similar his stats are.
And what about the recent, unfair, comparison to Jacques Kallis that has been thrown around. I say ‘unfair’ because comparing current Shane Watson to current Jacques Kallis is ridiculous. Kallis has played 156 tests, is closing in on 13,000 test runs, has 44 centuries and another 55 fifties to go with them. Oh, and he’s averaging a lazy 57 – and that’s before you even get to his 280 wickets. There is simply no comparison, its not even worth entertaining, at least not right at the minute. But what if you’re comparing Kallis’ first 35 tests to Watson’s? To story isn’t quite the same.
So, after 35 tests, Shane Watson has:
- more runs than Ponting, Clarke or Kallis – but note he has played more innings by virtue of opening the batting.
- passed 50 on more occasions than Ponting, Clarke or Kallis.
- taken same number of wickets, at a better strike rate and from 17% fewer overs, than Kallis with a near identical average and economy.
Ignore the average, the lack of three figure conversions, and there is no reason why Watson isn’t good enough to play as a specialist batsman… a specialist batsman who is more than handy with the ball.
If he isn’t fit enough to bowl, is he truly fit enough to play as a specialist batsman? I realise bowling places different strains on the body when compared to batting and fielding, but if Watson himself says that he’s not fit to bowl (as he’s done in the lead up to the 2nd test v South Africa this week) then he’s clearly not yet 100%, and with his history of injuries I’m not sure picking him solely as a batsman is a good idea. Is it worth the risk, is he just one sharp single from disaster (he’s fond of the odd dodgy run or two…). Or perhaps they should let him fully heal before he makes a return.
Don’t get me wrong, I want Shane Watson in the team, but more so I want a fully fit Shane Watson in the team. I want a fully fit Watson who can open the batting (sorry Dave, its probably you who’ll need to make way – but feel free to score many hundreds and prove me wrong), and bowl 1st or 2nd change. He doesn’t need to bowl 30 overs a day, but he needs to bowl – sure I guess we can manage with Quiney or Hussey being the back-up option if we need to, but we’d all rather have Watson running in, right?
Should Watson give up bowling? Should Watson give up the short forms to focus on staying fit for test matches?
Both are really variations on the same argument – should Shane Watson lighten his workload to prolong his career. Plenty of players do it, Brad Haddin and Michael Clarke retired from T20Is, Ricky Ponting now only plays Tests, Peter Siddle seems ok with being a ‘Test specialist’. Even with precedence, I would still find it hard to justify Watson giving away the shorter forms – especially when he has been award our One Day International Player of the Year for the past three years, and Twenty20 International Player of the Year this year.
I’ve seen a few saying that he should ditch ODIs, that they are what’s hurting him. I don’t agree. If Watson were to give up any of the formats I’d think it should be T20 – all of it. Yes, he’s well suited to it, yes, he’s been successful, and yes, Australia (or whatever team) benefits from him being there. But T20 is where the cricket schedule is becoming ever more bloated. All the tiny gaps between Test and ODI series – the gaps once used for player recovery and recuperation – are now plugged with T20 cricket. Indian Premier League, Big Bash League, Champions League, International T20 – it all adds up to a lot of extra games, and a lot of extra workload on the body of an international cricketer.
Without the IPL he would get an opportunity for some sort of rest after the jam packed Aussie summer. Without the BBL (which, realistically, he’d probably only play one or two games in anyway) he wouldn’t have to switch from Test to T20 mode and back again in a short space – theoretically helping his Test batting. And with both of those tournaments out of the picture he wouldn’t qualify for the Champions League, potentially giving him a rest, or Sheffield Shield match time, before the following Aussie summer.
Even then, if the workload is still deemed to high, then just let him miss the occasional ODI series. It worked well when he missed the ODI component of the Pakistan series in the UAE earlier in the year – he then came back for the T20 games and World T20 that followed and was better for the break… much, much better – leading run scorer, man of the series and four consecutive man of the match awards.
Should Watson be opening or batting down the order?
Opening. Unless we go to Adelaide (assuming Watson isn’t playing of course) and Warner and Quiney both score 200, in which case he will struggle to get back into the side before Boxing Day.
Let’s say Warner fires, and but Quiney doesn’t then Watson should slot back in at number 3. Likewise, if Quiney fires and Warner doesn’t then Watson should return and open with Cowan in Perth – although, Warner did quite enjoy the WACA last year, so even a low score for him in Adelaide wouldn’t necessarily force a change.
Why hasn’t Watson scored more test centuries?
I’m going to go with a combination of bad luck and poorly timed lapses in concentration. That aside, hundreds aren’t *everything*. Has passes 50 roughly once every three innings, and has fallen in the 90’s on 4 of those occasions. Were his career stat line to read 6 centuries and 14 fifties, would we be even debating his batting weak points? Then again, Dave Warner has only played 10 tests and already has 2 test centuries to his name.
Where to from here?
For now, I want Watson to get fit. If that means he misses more Test matches then so be it – better that he be properly fit than come back too soon, take a quick single and miss the entire summer.
Usman Khawaja and Phil Hughes are in good form with the bat but both are probably still a little out-of-favour with selectors after last summer. If they want a batting all-rounder who can also fill the role as fifth bowler, maybe Moises Henriques is a good place to look. He’s averaging 154 after 3 Shield games so far this season and has 9 wickets at a touch over 15 to go with it.
At this moment, I expect that while Watson is in the squad for Adelaide he won’t actually play, they’ll give Quiney another run instead. They’ll then hope to have him back on deck for Perth. But, hey, what do I know, it could get to Thursday morning and we discover that they’ve dropped Dave Warner, moved Quiney up to open, and slotted a batting-only Watson in at three. We’ll just have to wait an see.