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Watson stakes surprise claim

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Oliver Brett | 20:09 UK time, Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Doug Bollinger, Ben Hilfenhaus and Mitchell Johnson were probably aware of the fact even if they might not have wanted to acknowledge it.

The second day of the Lord's Test between Pakistan and Australia should have been all about these three Aussie fast bowlers, each with points to prove. Their Ashes berths are not entirely secure, with Ryan Harris and - if he can be fit in time - Peter Siddle ready to lay down challenges of their own.

But, like an uninvited party guest who arrives late and goes home with the prettiest girl, Shane Watson ruined their special day.

To describe Watson as the fourth seamer in Australia's attack might have been a generous remark before Ricky Ponting tossed him the ball shortly before tea on Wednesday.

Shane Watson celebrates a wicket with his Australian team-matesWatson was Australia's trump card on Wednesday

It must have crossed Ponting's mind that the debutant leg-spinner Steve Smith might deserve a chance first.

Then it happened. Watson took just three balls to strike, sending back Umar Akmal, one of the most dangerous of all international batsmen, almost immediately.

In a devastating burst he took 5-40 in 7.5 overs, even weathering a Shahid Afridi onslaught that - to judge by previous occasions - should have seen him slinking back into the shadows praying the skipper would say, "Cheers Watto, have a blow, mate."

Hilfenhaus was not able to display the knack for moving the ball both ways that Pakistan's seamers demonstrated on Tuesday, but importantly he picked up the first two wickets with two intelligent pieces of bowling.

Bollinger, unlike his name, was flat and ordinary to begin with, though he cashed in later when Pakistan's ship had already been mortally holed.

Johnson was about a thousand times better than he had been 12 months previously in the Ashes, but took just one wicket.

And it's prescient to reflect briefly on the 2009 Ashes, because if there was one bowler in that series who was more disappointing than Johnson it was Watson.

Not that it was entirely his fault. He was brought in when Phillip Hughes was dropped after the Lord's Test, ostensibly to plug the gap left at the top of the order, and he bowled gingerly in a brief three-over spell with Andrew Flintoff at his most imperious and the Edgbaston crowd at its most partisan.

He bowled five more overs in that series, in the first innings at The Oval, and though Ricky Ponting needed seven bowlers in the second innings, he decided he did not require Watson at all.

Despite a problem converting fifties into hundreds, Watson's batting performances in Tests have been strong enough to guarantee his place for the foreseeable future.

As for his bowling, in the seven Tests he has played between that Oval match last August and this, he has made himself nothing more than handy, chipping in with 13 wickets in all.

So one felt this five-wicket haul was as bewildering to him as it was to his team-mates and the Lord's spectators.

Watson's fourth wicket was his most impressive since it removed the one Pakistani batsmen who had made sense of the conditions, Salman Butt. There we were wondering when the last Pakistan player to carry his bat in a Test match was when Watson bowled one that swung late on a full length to splatter Butt's stumps.

After celebrating the wicket he went down to his fielding position at first slip at the start of the next over - to find Ponting and Marcus North slapping his back in a manner that said: "I can't believe you just did that, pal."

Australia had hoped Watson's big breakthrough season would be the 2006-07 Ashes series, after a string of untimely long-term injuries had confined him to only three previous Test appearances.

But his body broke down again - and his fourth match with a baggy green cap perched atop his blond locks did not come until October 2008, at the age of 27.

This Test is only his 18th and it is not surprising that he has occasionally bowled, as he did in England last summer, with the look of a man worried that he is about to twinge another hamstring or pull another groin muscle.

We saw a different Watson at Lord's on Wednesday. Now it's up to him to make sure it was not a one-off performance. If he can turn into the genuine Test all-rounder Australia are always searching for, this coming winter's Ashes series will be a tough proposition for England.


  • Comment number 1.

    Pakistan's batting looks very weak. Even if Australia declared now, i still wouldn't fancy them to win the match.

  • Comment number 2.

    Ive rated Watson for a long time. Whilst he has struggled to turn 50s to 100s as you say, the amount of times he gets to 50 makes him top class in my book. In the winter series against Pakistan he got into the 90s something like 3 matches in a row making at least one ton. His consistency is an asset and as a decent slip fielder as well his concentration levels are high. Throw in the ability to get wickets like today and he has the potential to be worlds best all rounder.

  • Comment number 3.

    First of all, let's remember why this match is being played at Lord's. Many Pakistani spectators, young and old, would surely love to see international cricket returned to Pakistan - and so would any right-thinking neutral, I submit. Meanwhile, English crowds are the current beneficiaries.

    Were I in UK, I would certainly go to see this Pakistani team for the sake of seeing Umar Akmal alone, as various sources have him down as a prodigy. He didn't show this today, but if he has the class and temperament they say he has, he will soon. - So watch out there, Mr Watson et al.

    As for Shane Watson's performance, I'm far too cautious to think much past the "one swallow doesn't........" adage. - And anyway, why would I want Shane Watson, or any other Aussie bowler, to find a spell of blinding form shortly before an Ashes series?

    Lastly, I'm none too sure about the metaphor "Pakistan's ship had (already) been mortally holed," Mr Brett.... None too sure at all... :)

  • Comment number 4.

    "Umar Akmal, one of the most dangerous of all international batsmen"

    This is a bit of an exaggeration. Sure he's promising but he's only played 6 tests. And that goes for most of the Pakistan batting line up. It's weak in terms of experience. Surely it's not that surprising that Australia bowled them out cheaply.

  • Comment number 5.

    No doubt at half time during the England-Germany World cup match Spanish bloggers were posting along the lines of:

    "Mueller stakes surprise claim to play quarter final against Spain".

  • Comment number 6.

    Pakistan are in Tier 2 Test Category, along with Bangladesh and WI?

  • Comment number 7.

    Watson performed very well over the last Australian Summer with the ball. Often Ponting would turn to him to make a break through and often he would be a success. After Hilfenhaus' injury he was also the only bowler to swing the ball with any consistency.

  • Comment number 8.

    Well written Brett. Taking care of his physical condition may prove quite a challenge for this talented overworked Aussie. With this exceptional haul he could find himself overused. Hopefully Ricky and any follow up Aussie captain will be mindful of this aspect.

    There is only one other thing, keeping an even keel temperamentally. We all know how over the top he can go and unexpected success is not easy to handle at his age. His embarrassing and an extremely puerile blow out at Gayle is yet to fade from memory. If he remembers that other than Salman Butt Pakistan wickets are easy pickings, it will help.

    The development cannot but be noted with some apprehension by England. Watson could easily turn into the best new dimension acquired by their never-short-of-resources Ashes rivals.

    Its another matter that PCB and Afridi are haplessly and inexorably collaborating in turning the generously granted 'Home away from Home' Test match series into a circus. No Test playing nation should ever turn Test selection into one man's bailiwick.

  • Comment number 9.

    Punter managed Watto very well this Summer when he was taking wickets and Watson mentioned his gratitude for this often in his interviews.

  • Comment number 10.

    "And it's prescient to reflect briefly on the 2009 Ashes"

    Since prescient means 'perceiving the significance of events BEFORE they occur' I would suggest it is, in fact, the OPPOSITE of prescient to consider what already happened a year ago.

  • Comment number 11.

    "We saw a different Watson at Lord's on Wednesday. Now it's up to him to make sure it was not a one-off performance. If he can turn into the genuine Test all-rounder Australia are always searching for, this coming winter's Ashes series will be a tough proposition for England."

    I can't see it. At the Rose Bowl for the ODI, he didn't look too mobile in the field and his bowling looked fairly innocuous. At Cardiff in 2009, watching him going through the bowling warm ups was painful. Flintoff had injuries but there wasn't a major drop in pace. Watson's down several miles per hour on his bowling. If Australia try to turn him into a batsman who can bowl 15 to 20 overs a day, then the injury threat is there. If he gets injured, then Australia lose a very set opening batsman, and that would be a major loss for them. Watson's trump card is his batting. Why risk losing that trump card for the sake for 15 overs a day?

    Give him his due, he bowled well yesterday in close to perfect conditions for seam bowling. His lack of pace compared to others in the side helped him to swing it. Mohammed Asif can bowl quicker than he has done in this game and it seems as if he's cut his pace back to focus on direction and swing. As well as Watson bowled, Asif bowling yesterday before the close was an absolute delight.

    People keep talking about Ponting's poor record at Lords. Lara and Tendulkar are no different. Both average 21 at Lords with high scores of 54 and 37 respectively. Kallis averages 6 at Lords after two Tests, a poor effort given that he played in the 2008 Test against England that saw serious runs being cranked up on a docile pitch. Lords isn't as easy to bat on as people may think. You see those figures above for four seriously good batsmen and then look at Glenn McGrath's record there (3 Tests, 26 wickets at 11.50, with three five wicket hauls and a best of 8/38). Lords does offer something to the bowlers if the clouds come in, and both Watson and Asif have utilised the conditions superbly.

  • Comment number 12.

    To describe Watson as the forth seamer in Australia's attack is still a generous remark. Give him the conditions and he can probably do a decent job, especially against a Pakistan batting line up that appeared to be in self-destruct mode yesterday. He's clearly a batsman first, bowler second. That's why Australia turned him into an opener. He's a useful player to have, but come the ashes he will probably be the fifth bowler.

  • Comment number 13.

    I agree with AndyPlowright and ArthurAshes about Watson's bowling, and wouldn't read much into yesterday. But if he's not there for his bowling ("If Australia try to turn him into a batsman who can bowl 15 to 20 overs a day, then the injury threat is there. If he gets injured, then Australia lose a very set opening batsman...") and ("That's why Australia turned him into an opener.") do you guys really believe he should be a Test opener for Australia? Is he one of Australia's two best opening batsmen? I am concerned about how he has ended up opening the batting (picked as an all-rounder for ODIs, then as an all-rounder for Tests, then promoted to opener as a stop-gap mid series when Phil Hughes wasn't performing). I know he did a decent job during the 2009 Ashes, and has been reasonable since then, but would a genuine specialist opening batsman have greater potential to deliver for Australia in the mid to long term?

  • Comment number 14.


    Simply, yes. If not an opener, then top 6 without a shadow of a doubt. You don't average 46 in first class cricket as an Australia without being a decent batsman. I'd rate him as a better batsman than someone like Andrew Symonds for instance and miles better than Cameron White.

    Since Watson came in as opener during the Ashes on July 30th 2009, he's played 11 Tests (including the current one), scored 961 runs with one century and several half centuries, and all at an average of 50.57. In terms of runs scored and average, that's higher than Ponting for the same time period (30 Jul 2009 to the present day). That's a more than decent job in my view particularly when that average includes opening here at Lords on a wicket giving a great deal of help for the seamers.

    Simon Katich in the same Jul 30 2009-present day time period has also played 11 Tests, scoring 1124 runs at an average of 62.44. That suggests both openers are in form. Watson and Katich have opened together 18 times, the partnership scoring 1064 runs at an average of 59.11 for the first wicket with a high 1st wicket partnership of 182.

    That compares pretty well with Hayden and Langer's partnership record for any wicket (mostly as openers but Langer did bat at 3 for a time)

    Partner Inns NO Runs High Ave 100 50
    JL Langer 122 4 6081 255 51.53 14 28

    So if Katich and Watson currently average a higher average partnership total than Hayden and Langer, I'd suggest it'd be pretty mad to bring in a specialist opener over Watson and that Australia would be far better served by Watson the batsman and part-time bowler a la Collingwood rather than Watson the opener, 15 overs a day bowler, and regular attendee on the physio table.

  • Comment number 15.

    10. - yep, probably used that word wrong. I might change it to "relevant" or something.

    11, 12, 13. - If you compare Watson to his nearest English equivalent in the likely Ashes line-up, Paul Collingwood, then I think his bowling compares very favourably (although I would give Colly the edge in ODIs). As for his batting as an opener, well frankly it's been extremely consistent and it's very grudging to call it only "decent" or "reasonable". I count eight half-centuries and one ton in less than a year. That's a very strong return.

  • Comment number 16.


    Totally agree. I think the stats I've put up above about Watson alone and then the Katich-Watson partnership show that his batting is a real asset for Australia. Time for some more stat digging...

  • Comment number 17.

    Excellent responses. AndyPlowright, the stats are very interesting and speak for themselves. The comparison with Hayden and Langer is good, and it's also worth emembering that, in addition to indivuidual potential, you are ideally picking an opening partnership and not just two individuals. Oliver Brett, point taken. Given the stats, 'decent' and 'reasonable' were too grudging.

  • Comment number 18.

    Interesting comparison between Watson and Collingwood although it does not really stand up if you consider that the latter is rarely called upon to bowl by England in Tests. Collingwood would probably only be considered as an all rounder now for ODI's and as he gets older his bowling is less likely to be called upon. Watson is still good enough to be called upon to bowl in Tests, although I think he would prefer the conditions presented to him at Lords yesterday as against a flat track somewhere on a hot day. Given good batting wickets England would have to bat really badly for Watson to bowl them out. Having said that I think there is more chance of that happening, however remotely, than Collingwood bowling out Australia.

  • Comment number 19.

    The number of times Watson and Katich get to 80/90 without reaching a ton is remarkable. Must be getting close to the likes of Mike Atherton for the number of times without three-figure conversion.

    Watson bowled in favourable conditions albeit did look different to the plodder whom Flintoff and Prior carted all round EDgbaston on the Sunday afternoon of last years test.

    Out of interest, can someone tell me if centuries or five-wicket hauls (hate the 'fivefa' Sky TV invented expression...) are added to the honours board for this test or is that purely for England tests?

  • Comment number 20.

    Let's face it if you let a trundler like Watson take a five for, you know you have a weak batting line-up. And what about that 'captain's innings' from Afridi? : the Captain's innings & the Charge of the Boom Boom Brigade

  • Comment number 21.

    Watson's "second" career consists of:-

    16 matches, 30 wickets (including two five fors one of which was against India), 9 50s (4 frustratingly unconverted), 1 century.

    Not to mention the versatility he has given to the team which has been so sorely needed since the mass retirements. There are problems with the Australian team but the opening partnership is undoubtedly one of the strengths, goodness knows what some of the innings totals may have been without the platform they unwaveringly supply.

    As for this haul coming in favourable conditions, as I mentioned above he was capable of swinging it in unfavourable Australia too; however, he definitely prefers the red ball. At least he has the guts to pitch it up to suit the conditions. The incapacity of the Australian full-time bowlers to make the batsmen play, especially inexperienced ones, can be mind-numbingly frustrating at times, not to mention Ponting's unwillingness to keep a third slip when on top and swing providing greater possibility for edges. Oh, he showed the full-timers how to bowl to the tail-end too, which has been a problem for them, cannot afford that against England with their handy tail-enders.

  • Comment number 22.

    Brett I think Watsons cameo with the ball looked much better as a news headline rather than an article on your blog. Are you going to write something similar about Marcus North now? I think Watson just got lucky, you should have got your proof in the second innings. Part timers became partnership breakers both the innings and they just got extra wickets because of the young batting lineup.........

  • Comment number 23.

    North's six were a function largely of bat swinging and head spinning rather than ball swinging. Hopefully he does not retain his spot on the merit of his bowling, a bowler would never keep their's for their batting. I'm hoping he is keeping Hauritz's seat warm.

  • Comment number 24.

    bjoh, North is not competing with Hauritz for a place. Hauritz's current substitute is Steve Smith. And you're right, North bowled some nice balls but most of is wickets were as a result of eyes-closed slogging - very different from how Watson accrued his haul.

  • Comment number 25.

    Yes, I understand that Smith came in for Hauritz but I also believe, having a first class average of 77 (at a SR of 73) in the classiest domestic competition last season, Smith could easily fill North's position at no. 6. This will provide more stability into the future and less chance of losing two or three players at once with North, Ponting, Katich and Hussey all in the same age bracket.

  • Comment number 26.

    Watson is a very good bowler and is a excellent reverse swing bowler as proved in the australian summer. His 1st class average with the ball is also excellent. His ODI record with the ball is also very good, he has been well managed with the ball in terms of how often he has been used but has proven at test level in the last 8 or 9 months that he is a very handy 4th seam option

  • Comment number 27.

    Oliver do you really think watson can be their 4th seamer? As far as i know he didnt get any wickets in the 2nd innings..... He just made use of the conditions and the slope to get wickets in the first innings.... He was very expensive in the second innings like he has always been in 50 over cricket......

  • Comment number 28.

    The Watson show of 5 for 40 from 7.5 overs is a fantastic performance in an innings of a test match. It was more like an ODI haul. Best wishes to the two sides in the second test match.

    Dr. Cajetan Coelho

  • Comment number 29.

    In answer to (19) jabsco79, Lords have created a Neutral Honours board this year which Watson was the first bowler on it. There was also a neutral test between Australia and SA in 1912 and a couple of batsmen from that game got (belatedly) on the board too.,1310,AR.html

  • Comment number 30.

    Watson - one of the weakest seam bowlers to take 5 wickets at Lords and get on the Honours Board since Ed Giddens against the Zimbos?

  • Comment number 31.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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