The paradox of Shane Watson
How England fans sneered when they saw a familiar blond all-rounder walk out to open the batting for Australia in the Edgbaston Ashes Test of 2009.
Here was a man who had produced one solitary fifty in 13 previous Test innings. He apparently had few credentials as an opener, and was more adept, surely, at batting at six or seven and bowling a few overs of fast-medium. Besides, he seemed to be injured most of the time.
Shane Watson, for he was the man in question, ignored the naysayers, striking 62 and 53 while James Anderson and Graham Onions were swinging the ball sideways. He has played every Test bar one since then, forming a formidable opening partnership with the crab-like Simon Katich, hitting the ball merrily here, there and everywhere with little ceremony spared.
Watson and wife Lee Furlong are one of Australia's top celebrity couples (Getty)
Katich has been Australia's top scorer in all Tests since Edgbaston 2009, but only by five runs. Watson has amassed 1,261 runs in that time at an average of 50.44, leaving Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke and Michael Hussey trailing in his wake. Whatever your allegiance, it is easy to admire Watson's second coming.
He could have been a hero in the 2006-07 Ashes, when England were swept aside 5-0, but coulda, shoulda, woulda appeared to be Watson's story.
His was then a career mired in uncertainty, notably because of injuries afflicting every part of an ironically powerful physique, with hamstrings, calves and hips taking a battering.
So inevitably he was unfit and missed Australia's glorious summer. Even though he enjoyed the considerable consolation of appearing in the 2007 World Cup-winning side, his Test career appeared in danger of remaining forever unfulfilled.
Now, at 29, he is one of the first names on the Australia team sheet, filling a dual role as Katich's more effusive foil, while sending down some handy overs as the fourth seamer. He proved particularly effective with the ball in the Tests against Pakistan at Lord's and Headingley last summer.
The oddity is that many Australian cricket fans find it difficult to admire Watson. More on that later, but one person in the pro-Watson camp is former captain Ian Chappell, whose no-nonsense punditry can be picked up by Test Match Special listeners this winter.
There is a view that Watson should not open the batting, despite his success in that role. Chappell bombs that theory out of the water, saying: "He might have become an opening batsman by accident but he's quite happy opening and I look upon him as a very effective opener."
Watson rarely fails to score his runs quickly in Test matches (AP)
An old-fashioned see-ball, hit-ball biffer without the finesse of others, Watson nevertheless possesses a sound enough defence. The overall package suits Chappell fine.
"If you have an opener who can score quickly, as Watson does, it's worth gold and makes him very effective," he said. "There are two types of opening batsman, the type that gets a start, makes the most of it and makes a big score, then you have the type who doesn't get out early but doesn't get big scores too often. Watson's in the second category, but if you can't have the first category I'm happy with the second category.
"The flaw is that he doesn't get a lot of hundreds, but he makes up for that in other ways. So long as he doesn't get out quickly, the guys batting around him are never under pressure to score quickly themselves."
Chappell is not keen to see Watson increase his bowling workload, however, adding: "The more bowling he's got to do the more it means the Australian attack isn't performing as well as you would hope. Watson should be used the way he's been used in the last 12 to 18 months, purely as a change bowler, a few overs here and then he's off.
"Anything you do with him that takes him away from opening the batting effectively would be counter-productive."
When he picked up the Allan Border Medal in February, the annual prize awarded to Australia's top cricketer, Watson fought back tears. His partner Lee Furlong, a TV presenter who he has since married, beamed in the audience as her man, clad in a designer suit and with his hair perfectly coiffured, thanked a range of people who had helped rebuild his career.
Watson's bowling could be an important option for Ponting (Reuters)
Among them was Victor Popov, the Brisbane physiotherapist who transformed Watson's training regime. No more pumping weights in the gym to make those rippling muscles even bigger, instead a gentler schedule of Pilates and stretching was ordered. Where there was once an occasional beer or two to unwind, now there was a strict teetotal regime.
To the unreconstructed Australian sports fan, Watson is thus something of an anomaly - and it helps explain the paradox that he does not meet with universal approval in his own country.
The Australian blogger Jarrod Kimber really sticks the boot in, writing recently: "It takes real talent to be hated when you are pathetic and just as despised when you are good. Even those who have the talent to get to this level of hatred could never do it as well as Shane Watson.
"When not in front of the mirror, he seems to be able to move 95% of cricket fans into a frenzy of hate, pure detestation, clear revulsion, and a general uneasy sickness of rage."
So he continues, belittling his bowling action by likening it to the movements of "an elderly man getting out of a car".
England's bowlers will have all sorts of strategies lined up for him when the first Test starts at his home ground, the Gabba. Whether they fall into the camp of being admirers or haters of "Watto" is not strictly relevant.
Nevertheless, the renaissance of Watson, and the manner in which it has been received, provides a fascinating backdrop to a potentially fascinating series.