Shane Watson’s versatility is as much a hindrance to himself as it is a help for his team.
Watson has batted anywhere from opener to number seven in his Test career and as low as nine in one day internationals.
The No.3 spots in both the Test and one-day side have been vacant since the departure of Ricky Ponting and no player has managed to cement themselves there.
Watson looked likely to become the long term No.3 at the start of the year before injuries to his ankle and calf.
He has been sidelined since May and played his first domestic cricket in the Matador Cup in October – where he made scores of 34 and 84 from two starts.
Watson pressed his claims further playing in the T20 series against South Africa. He came in at first drop to make scores of 47, 30 and 5.
Watson plays his best at the top of the order. He averages 40.98 as an opener – but David Warner and Chris Rogers already occupy these positions in the Test side.
Watson’s figures at first drop are even more encouraging than those when he opens.
From his 19 innings batting at three, he averages 41.61 and has two hundreds to his name – the same amount he has from 27 innings as an opener.
In ODIs, he averages 29.18 from 22 innings – while not setting the world on fire, they are solid figures.
Watson batting in the vital spot is a win-win for him and Australian cricket. It’s the position that Australia need to fill and one that Watson is more than capable of satisfying.
Watson is not only the best option for the role, he is pretty much the only option.
Since Watson last played international cricket in January we have seen a bounty of players have a crack at No.3.
Alex Doolan lasted four Tests before being dropped.
Doolan failed to impress with limited opportunities, averaging a smidge under 24 from eight digs.
The swashbuckling Glenn Maxwell was his replacement, but all this experiment determined was that Maxwell simply is not ready to bat at number three in Tests.
In the process of making 37 and four against Pakistan, he managed to sneak in a reverse sweep; something that former Test captain Kim Hughes has labelled a disgrace.
While Maxwell is a devastating batsman for the one-day and T20 teams, he needs to make some changes to play Test cricket. Maxwell must take the same road as David Warner and work on his patience, defence and learn to adapt to the longer form of the game.
Shaun Marsh was called up to the ODI role against England at the start of the year and made scores of 55 and 71, but now has fallen off the radar in terms of selection.
His brother Mitch had a crack there, making 89 and 5 before being dropped down the order.
Matthew Wade scored 23 in the one game he played at first drop and Michael Clarke played a game there, scoring 68, but it is well known that the skipper prefers batting lower down the order.
Steve Smith batted at first drop against Pakistan in the one day series. He averaged 47. As the position is usually reserved for the team’s best batsmen, going off current form Smith is that man.
Despite all this, he was left out of Australia’s team to take on South Africa in favour of George Bailey, before getting a reprieve for the second game when Clarke was sidelined by injury. Clarke also came out and said that it was currently a fantasy for Smith to bat at three.
The No.3 position comes with a weight of expectation; even more so following Michael Clarke’s hamstring injury.
The No.3 will have to take on this pressure and more responsibility on their shoulders.
Watson’s shoulders are definitely big enough. He is well-suited to handle this pressure thanks to his experience and level head.
It is something that a debutant or less-experienced player may struggle to cope with.
The only thing standing in Watson’s way is his susceptibility to injury.
So far Watson is looking the goods, pulling up fine from his recent limited-overs matches for Australia. Going off his recent performances, and reduced workload in terms of bowling, he looks to remain fit.
Watson’s chance is against South Africa, but he must score runs. So far he has failed twice, but he has three more games to press his claims.
Despite these twin failures he is a proven performer in the position and our best option to bat at No.3
An undisrupted spell of cricket will help Watson play himself into the role, and from there, Australia can build a team around him at three.