Shane Watson found himself in an all-too-familiar scenario when he was dismissed LBW in both innings of the opening Ashes Test in Cardiff, falling for 30 and 19 when Australia needed a big innings from their No.6. The high-profile all-rounder also struggled to deliver with the ball; failing to take a wicket in the 12 overs he bowled his fast-medium.
Watson is a player of much class with an impressive record, but for the cricket-loving fraternity it is almost agonising to watch him struggle to find form in the longer format. More importantly, ‘Watto’ regularly looks settled in his innings before throwing away his wicket, thus drawing even more criticism from the high-expecting Aussie fans. Simply put, Watson is a prodigious talent but simply fails to exorcise his demons when it comes to cricket in whites.
The Australian selectors had their work cut out for them leading up to the vital second test at Lord’s, which starts on Thursday, July 16. They have dropped the 34-year-old Watson and replaced him with Mitchell Marsh as the Aussies attempt to level the series at 1-1. This move could potentially put Watson’s 59-Test career in jeopardy, seemingly running out of chances for good.
Marsh has been performing solidly and scored eye-catching back-to-back tons against Kent and Essex in the warm-up tour matches. The Western Australian all-rounder was also good with the ball, picking up more scalps than the under-fire Watson. Watson was preferred for the first Test, but coach Darren Lehmann admitted he was “very close” to losing his place in the XI.
Michael Clarke said that his side will need to use this loss in a positive way, as they did with their World Cup loss to New Zealand in the group-stage in Auckland, which helped them to build momentum and ultimately clinch their fifth title.
Lehmann had already hinted that if would be a tough call between Marsh and Watson for the all-rounder position. With such a monumental decision against one of Australia’s longest-serving players, the pivotal position in the team could play a key role in the 2015 Ashes Campaign.
Why Shane Watson should have kept his spot
- He plays well against England in England
Watson can play against the English, a fact which has been overlooked when criticising him. If you cast your mind back to the 2013 Ashes series in England, statistics show Watson was the highest run-scorer for Australia over the five Tests with 418 at a healthy average of 41.8, as well as amassing his highest Test score of 176 at The Oval. Going even further back to the 2009 Ashes in The Old Dart, Watson again was impressive, scoring a number of assured half-centuries over the course of the series, impressing many good judges and kick-starting his Test career. Watson has had the majority of his Test batting success against the Poms, scoring two of his four Test centuries against them.
England is also where Watson performs best with the ball; two out of his three 5-wicket hauls in Test cricket have come there, albeit against Pakistan. It is noted by many that Watson is able to swing the ball considerably in English conditions, as well as being able to produce elusive reverse swing, a rare weapon. After playing against Australia in a recent tour match, Essex batsman Tom Westley – who made a solid century in the match – sang the praises of Watson, noting that he found the medium-pacer “really difficult” to score off and “extremely challenging” in English conditions, with Watson’s ability to move the ball both ways in the air and his nagging line and length difficult to play.
- Watson provides priceless experience to the Australian team
At 34 years of age and with 59 Tests under his belt, Watson has been around the traps for a very long time, and knows the ins and outs of international cricket. He boasts considerable Ashes experience, too, something that would no doubt come in handy during a pressure-filled Test series where leaders will be needed to stand up and be counted.
Aussie opener David Warner endorsed Watson’s leadership skills and experience, telling of how he regularly visits the all-rounder for advice, as well as describing his teammate as “a great asset”, going on to say that “he’s doing everything right”. Warner was also quick to point out that we should not be too hasty to lambast Watson for his first-Test performance, as no Australian batsman played well in the foreign conditions. While he might be under intense pressure from the fans and even the coach, Warner’s comments show that Watson still has the backing of the playing group, and that they believe he can still be a force at Test level.
Why Shane Watson should have been dropped and replaced with Mitchell Marsh
- Highly susceptible to LBW dismissals
Although Watson sports a decent record against England, they also can lay claim to a decent record of their own against him. As was widely publicised in the coverage of the first Test, Watson has been dismissed LBW an astonishing 29 times in Test cricket, with a whopping 14 of those coming against England.
It was in England in 2009 where his weakness to being trapped in front of his stumps was masterminded. The Poms repeatedly dismissed him in that fashion in the Test series, and then made his life a living LBW hell in the ODI series that followed.
Since then they have not let up, with the big front pad of Watson being targeted endlessly with great success by the likes of Stuart Broad and Jimmy Anderson. If Watson is to thrive again at Test level, he will need to find a way to combat his widely known kryptonite – and quickly.
Countless batsmen have, of course, prospered over the years with unorthodox techniques, not least Australia’s current run-machine Steve Smith, whose shuffling motion would be found only in a textbook on Simon Katich’s and Shiv Chanderpaul’s shelf.
But Watson’s technique has stopped working. He gets out too cheaply, too often and frequently when the heat is on; his batting average doesn’t so much reveal it as scream it. It is 35, which is meagre for a man of his talents, particularly one that spent a significant portion of his Test career as an opener or No.3.
- Mitchell Marsh could be a better option
As previously stated, Marsh is in sublime touch with the bat after a pair of recent tons, and his bowling is steadily improving. To be fair to Watson, he also performed at a decent level in the tour matches, scoring a pair of half-centuries, although Marsh completely overshadowed him with his brutal, big-hitting antics.
Marsh has previously shown immense promise in the Test arena, solidly slotting in during the recent home summer against India. Highlights of his debut Test series included the dashing 41 he made at Adelaide, belting the ball all over the park with aplomb, as well as showcasing his ability to bowl above 140kmph, and a safe pair of hands in the outfield to boot.
ASHES STATSMETER (From ESPN Cricinfo):
Number of wins for England inlast 15 Ashes Tests at home. England only lost one of these 15 Tests and drew the remaining six.
15 Number of timesthe last 17 Ashes (going back to 1982) that the team taking a 1-0 lead has gone on to win the Ashes. The only exceptions were the Ashes series of 2005 and 1997.
29 Number of times Shane Watson has been dismissed lbw in Tests, the most for any Australian batsman in the last 10 years. Ricky Ponting has been trapped in front on 26 occasions during this period. Overall, Alastair Cook hasdismissed lbw the most times in the last 10 years – 39 times.
17 Number50-plus scores for David Warner in the last two years, more than any other batsman. Three other batsmen – Joe Root, Steven Smith and Misbah-ul-Haq – have made 16 scores each of 50 or more. Warner has scored 2037 runs in this period at an average of 52.23.
33 Runs scored by Steven Smith in the fourth innings of this Test. Smith’s career batting average in the fourth innings is 29.75, while he averages 89.64 in the first innings of Tests.
12 Number50-plus scores for Mitchell Johnson in Tests, the most for any Australian player when batting at No.8 or below. He went past Shane Warne who has 11 such scores. Daniel Vettori holds the overall record with 23 scores of 50 or more when batting at No. 8 or below.
72 The partnership between Johnson and Mitchell Starc, the second-eighth wicket partnership for Australia in the fourth innings of a Test match. The highest such partnership for Australia is 76 between Warne and Ricky Ponting at Old Trafford in 2005.
77 Runs scored by Johnson in the fourth innings of this Test, the second-highest score by an Australian batsman in the fourth innings of a Test when batting at No. 8 or below. The only time an Australian batsman scored more was when Rod Marsh scoredagainst England in 1972.