ENIGMA TO THE END Watto never really aced the test
SHANE Watson hoped to finish his Test career with an exclamation mark. Instead it ended with a question mark. It has been there for years. And it will stay there forever.
Watson was a Test player who was better than most people thought he was but not as good as we wanted him to be.
Sound confusing? It is. But that’s Watto. An enigma to the end.
A few hours before announcing his Test retirement, Watson hit two of the biggest sixes seen at Lord’s.
Yet the same bat that sent those two balls soaring could never perform the relatively straightforward task of stopping deliveries from hitting his front pad in front of the stumps in Test cricket.
Welcome to Watto Lotto, the game Australia’s selectors played for almost 15 years without ever quite feeling they snared the jackpot.
Statistics never tell the full story of a player’s worth but they get Watson about right.
His batting average of 35 is an accurate reflection of his worth as a Test batsman.
He seemed forever trapped in that nerve-racking mid-to-late-30s zone which separates anchormen from journeymen, the good from the average, and leaves a man constantly fighting for his future.
His four tons in 59 Tests were about 50 per cent shy of a pass mark.
Coupled with his bowling returns of 75 wickets at 33, his all-round returns were serviceable.
In 50 years time, cricket analysts who never saw Watson play will look solely at his numbers and rate him a significant contributor in a volatile era – which he was.
The trouble was he promised more.
That he won three man-of-the- match awards tells a story of how, despite being tried in every position in the top seven, he was never a true match-turner or a man who seized the major moments in an Andrew Flintoff or Ian Botham way.
This was the player who renowned hard marker Glenn McGrath said in 2007 would be “one of the greatest allrounders we have seen – a batsman who can play every shot and a bowler who can bowl at 140kph plus’’.
When playing for Tasmania, Watson was one of the fastest bowlers in Australia which is why he was rushed into a touring squad to South Africa in 2002 at age 20.
The great mystery of his batting was that a man with such a pure technique and insatiable desire to make the most of himself could never rid himself of the lbw curse that claimed him 29 times in Tests.
Watson could never be accused of not trying hard enough.
In fact, some believe trying too hard was his problem.
For a while his hotel rooms were freshened by scented candles.
Then there were the calves’ blood injections in his damaged leg muscles. He even took his own pillow on tour to make sure he slept well and brought his own physio to make sure his temperamental leg muscles behaved themselves.
In 2009 and 2010 these investments paid off, with him batting with confidence in Tests and winning a couple of Allan Border Medals.
But in only one of his other seven years as a Test player did he average more than 32, with injuries so often sapping his form and confidence.
Australia never lost hope that Watson would one day deliver the golden reward he promised, which is part of the reason why he ended up playing four more Tests than legendary allrounder Keith Miller and four less than Richie Benaud.
They searched for the hero that McGrath was talking about without ever being quite able to find him.