Australia’s 275-run mauling of Afghanistan on Wednesday saw a potential turning point in the career of the much-maligned Shane Watson.
With left-arm seamer James Faulkner having returned from injury for the game, Watson was the man left out from Australia’s previous fixture, and chairman of selectors Rod Marsh has implied that the 33-year-old may find it hard to regain a spot in the team.
“It doesn’t mean anything going forward, except that he’s not in the XI at the moment,” Marsh said. “If things change then there’s no reason why he won’t be back in the XI.
“He’s a fine, fine player…it was a tough decision. No one likes to leave out anyone. Hopefully he’ll find himself back in the team at some stage. He might have to rely on someone else’s lack of form or an injury to get back in, but it’s a good situation to be in really when you’ve got both Watson and George Bailey out of the side – two extremely well-credentialed one-day players.”
Whilst Marsh’s comments show that the door is not closed completely on Watson, they do suggest that it will be another player’s failure rather than his success that will put him back in the side.
This is now the first time since 2008, when James Hopes and Andrew Symonds were in the side ahead of the Queenslander, that Watson has not been in the ODI side for reasons other than fitness. The decision taken to drop him was met with some surprise amongst pundits and commentators, although delight from fans; at the time of writing, Cricket Australia’s fan poll suggested that 81% of fans were in favour of the decision to drop Watson.
Watson dropped. Future clouded.
— Robert Craddock (@crashcraddock1) March 4, 2015
Courier Mail journalist Robert Craddock had his say on the all-rounder’s future on Twitter, calling his future ‘clouded’, and after Marsh’s clarification that Watson had been dropped, rather than rested or injured, it seems that his ODI career could be coming towards an end.
Former Australia captain Mark Taylor echoed this sentiment, saying that he believed Australia might keep Wednesday’s playing eleven for the rest of the tournament.
“I think Shane Watson, at is very best, does bat at No.3 for Australia,” Taylor said. “If Australia play well, it’s going to be hard for Watson to get back in, especially if Smith or Clarke make runs. “This could be Australia’s side for the rest of the World Cup, if they play well.”
The easy decision for Australia would have been to leave out Mitchell Marsh. His five-wicket haul against England in their opening game deserved credit, but against an associate nation whom Australia were expected to beat emphatically, it would not have been a tough call to leave him out in the hope that Watson would make runs and secure his spot in the side.
However, with Marsh preferred to him, it looks as though the right-hander’s run of fifteen months without an ODI century may finally have caught up with him. Having last bowled his full quota of ten overs in a one-day international in September 2013 against a rotated England side, it seems that Australia rate his bowling less and less, and just 64 runs in the calendar year of 2015 is not a record that is seen as sufficient.
With a gargantuan 5501 ODI runs in his career, Watson’s average of 40.15 in one-day internationals is impressive to say the least, and for a supporting bowler, 164 wickets at an economy rate under five reflects an excellent ODI career.
His highest score – 185* against Bangladesh at Mirpur in 2011 – remains the highest by an Australian after David Warner’s dismissal for 178 on Wednesday, and his superb overall record does beg the question as to why he attracts so much negative publicity from fans in particular.
Geoff Lemon wrote an excellent article for The Cricket Monthly in February, which explained why many fans are so against the 33-year-old.
“Frustration with his game kept the rest simmering. He’d look great for 30 runs, then play a dumb shot. He’d go through phases of replicating a dismissal,” wrote Lemon. “His bowling remained a support act. In the view from the couch, Watson was an ongoing investment that never paid off. His best was exceptional but inconsistent, and cricket fans are an impatient lot. We resented the way he walked back into the team after [his injuries]. We thought he was anointed by the cricketing establishment, and we thought he felt entitled to it.”
Does this mean that in the event of a continuation of Watson’s career he will be appreciated more by Australia’s supporters? Depending on how this World Cup pans out, Watson may well find himself permanently out of the one-day set-up for Australia, which would leave him with two options.
Either, the stocky, six-foot all-rounder can focus on his Test match form, and hope to find himself adding to his four centuries in the longest form of the game, or he can focus on Twenty20 cricket, and try to secure lucrative contracts around the world. Unfortunately, for a man with as tarnished an injury record as Watson, the latter may seem the more viable option, which would be a great loss to the game.
Watson’s ten-year career has been a story of unfulfilled talent, and after his latest setback, he may have doubts as to whether he will ever be as good as his natural ability promised.
A low-key World Cup game against Afghanistan at the WACA would not have been the sort of fixture that Shane Watson expected might define his career ten years ago. However, after his non-selection on Wednesday, the 33-year-old finds his ODI career slipping away from him, and wondering what might have been.
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