Thursday, 22 August 2013

You Know That Thing I Said About Shane Watson ...

No more looking back
That splattering, nauseating smell which is sliding down my face is several dozen eggs. Cricket has a way of levelling even those who sit a safe distance away from the action.

Shane Watson's first day hundred at The Oval, at odds with common sense and outside any tote that even "Hi, I'm Tom Waterhouse" could offer, is another reminder that the game won't be tamed ... won't work out as it should.

It was a startling innings from Watson, more so because nothing much changed from the batsman who has so often played from outside off to leg and allowed his pads to do his walking. 60% of his runs came in the arc from square leg to mid on and 40% of his boundaries came through mid wicket. Dividing his run scoring into two halves only, two thirds of his 176 came on the leg side. This wasn't a new technique. He didn't watch the ball more closely. It isn't a rebirth.

Just the same talented but flawed Shane Watson.

In the process, he played and missed early on but not often. He was inexplicably dropped by Alastair Cook at slip after reaching his century. He survived several lbw appeals, even using the DRS successfully so that irony could be fully sated. Most disturbingly, he was felled by an awful blow to his head, when the ball missed the rim of his batting helmet and struck him behind the left ear. It was Lehmann's potential cry baby Stuart Broad who did the damage and he looked on dispassionately as the big blond crouched, in gathering mode.

Several things assisted his good eye and belligerent smoting to leg. First and foremost among them, England's arrogant decision to choose two new rookies on the one day, with the Ashes safely polished and nailed down in place across London at their permanent home. Those who treat Test matches as a dead rubber experiment, deserve to have their noses well and truly rubbed in it. The all rounder Chris Woakes replaced Jonny Bairstow, who hasn't done much but he's played his part of a winning team and the injured Tim Bresnan wasn't replaced by Chris Tremlet, as expected, but by the slow left arm spinner Simon Kerrigan.

Broad glowers over
Watson after striking
him a fearful blow
Watson gave Kerrigan a debut he'll not soon forget. His first two overs went for 28 and it really never got any better. Like a roomful of jockeys, he was constantly short and would have finished his few overs with sunburn to the roof of his mouth, as he watched the ball sail over his head. Any of those brave enough to remember the 1970's will remember John Watkins, a Newcastle leg spinner who played one Test match, winning it with a late partnership with Bob Massie that allowed Max Walker and Dennis Lillee *genuflects* to bowl Australia to victory. His bowling was short, wide and dreadful. Kerrigan was worse.

Woakes made a fair fist of it after a rough start before lunch and looked a tidy unit.

The track was flat and without pace and will dust as it wears, strangely favouring the series leading wicket taker Graeme Swann. He bowled far too much on the opening day, possibly because Alastair Cook couldn't use Kerrigan without risking spectators or small children who happened to passing the ground. James Anderson, by comparison, bowled far too little, especially at the important moments of the day. Stuart Broad was his usual brutish, baby faced, spiteful self and I think Boof Lehmann is fooling himself if he thinks that one would ever retreat in tears. There is a touch of DR Jardine about Broad.

Kevin Pietersen's catch should be mentioned. Many will talk of its brilliance, diving a full stretch on the boundary to capture the key wicket of Watson. Bollocks! As he has done several times in this series, Pietersen didn't move and didn't pick up then ball, making his final dive necessary. Far from being a brilliant catch, it was lucky. Of course, that won't be the story Pietersen tells down the years. Unlike the candour of John Dyson, the English South African won't explaining he was out of position.

In this mood and with blood in his nostrils, Shane Watson is an attacking weapon of the highest order. He is as potent a destroyer of opposition bowlers as exists in the any form of the game. His technique is impaired, which is why his career average will, like Phar Lap, die in the 30's. The task for Lehmann and his now best buddy Michael Clarke, will be to accept the failures and pump him up for the incendiary moments. Watson, more than any other Australian cricketer, has performances linked to his mood. He's a bad ass on bad karma.

Smith 66x
Steve Smith has made an other effective start. Again, Smith is not technically perfect and although I'm not comparing them, it would be wise to remember that one of Australia's best willow wielding entertainers, Doug Walters, was himself held back by his inability to resist the ball outside off stump under any circumstances. Smith improved in India at a time when others slumped their heads and let opportunities and curries pass through. He has shown growth again in England and is one to keep shined for duty long into an improved Australian future. A century tomorrow would be the right tonic at just the right time. He took the ones on offer, cracked the bad ball to the boundary and played the support role in adding 145 with Watson after Clarke was again castled by Jimmy Anderson.

Taking the long view, Australia's cricket in the month since Lords has been pretty good, winning seventeen of the twenty eight sessions played since that crushing defeat. The difference in the sides has not only been experience but the inability of the few senior players Australia has to use their experience to the team's advantage in the clutch moments. Maybe that comes with confidence. Maybe it comes with a belief in your mates. Maybe it just comes when you accept the situation is as it is, stop listening to the media and in the words of Bruce Willis, "cowboy the @#&% up."

Yippee eye oh kyae.