Australia’s whipping boy Watson to be missed from test arena
The retirement of all-rounder Shane Watson robs test cricket of one of its most enigmatic characters, while depriving Australian fans of their favourite whipping boy in the red-ball game.
The 34-year-old Queenslander bowed out on Sunday after a 10-year career of 59 tests, featuring 3,731 runs at an average of 35.19 and 75 wickets at 33.68.
Watson, who has not stepped down from the one-day and Twenty20 sides, can further burnish his considerable achievements in the shorter formats of the game.
But his respectable, if not spectacular, legacy in tests will remain a source of debate in assessing one of the game’s most polarising players.
Watson’s backers will remember a stoic figure who eked a lot from a cursed body, flashed a glorious cover drive and took bags of wickets on foreign pitches with metronomic medium pace.
Fans closer to home will recall a career that fell infuriatingly short of its enormous promise.
“There’s a lot that I’m proud of,” Watson said after announcing his decision. “The thing I’m most proud of is I’ve given everything I possibly can to get the best out of myself.
“I haven’t achieved certainly all the things I dreamed of achieving in Test cricket — average 50 with the bat and in the 20s with the ball.
“That’s obviously the dream as an all-rounder to achieve and obviously I didn’t get anywhere near that, but I do know I gave it everything I possibly can to be able to get the best out of myself.”
By any measure, Watson has been a man of contradictions, many of them frustrating and some quite hilarious.
Sporting the barrel-chested physique of a surf life-saver, Watson made his test debut against Pakistan in 2005, having cut his teeth in first-class cricket in frigid Tasmania, far from the sunny beaches of his native Queensland.
He fell flat on his face after his opening delivery at the Sydney Cricket Ground, but picked himself up to take a wicket and score a nervous 31.
He would play only two more tests before his shoulder gave way, shunting him out of the side for another three years.
Upon his return, he quickly established himself as one of the country’s most important players in a team battling to rebuild after the retirements of a golden generation of players.
While his bowling was commendably tight and often produced breakthrough wickets, his focus at the crease was inclined to wander.
He became known as a squanderer of starts, a reputation that would ultimately prove unshakeable.
It wasn’t until his 15th test that he would finally raise his bat for a century, having been dropped on 98 by a Pakistan fielder in the 2009 Boxing Day test in Melbourne.
He would score only three more tons from his 109 innings, though building platforms with 24 half-centuries.
Although a sharp slip fielder, his running between wickets was often lamentable, leaving batting partners fuming as they trudged off as casualties of a Watson-induced mix-up.
Later in his career, his pads seemed to grow to epic proportions and offer the easiest of target practice for accomplished seamers seeking to trap him lbw.
Watson’s enthusiasm for the decision review system was matched only by his ineptitude in using it, and Youtube compilations of some of his most farcical appeals remain in high circulation.
The injuries never abated for long enough for Watson to build momentum, and he gradually became a problem.
Urged to shelve his bowling to preserve his body, he fell short of the runs to justify himself as a specialist batsman.
Yet, his seemingly unbreakable hold of his place within the team was one of the bigger curiosities of Australian cricket.
Critics raged on social media and talk-back radio in his homeland, but selectors stuck by their man through thick and thin however rarely their faith was repaid.
The axe finally swung in July after the first Ashes test in England where the scorecard showed a familiar sight for groaning Australians — Watson trapped lbw in both innings after making starts.
He cut a forlorn figure carrying the drinks in the final four tests, which somehow felt poorer for the lack of the Queenslander.
If failing to bring runs or wickets, Watson could generally be relied upon to deliver drama or comedy, and his absence robs the test arena of one of its most human actors.