As one touring scribe noted when Australia’s team was announced on Sunday afternoon, rumours of the death of Shane Watson’s international career had been greatly exaggerated.
Only four days after he was dumped from the World Cup team, he was back against Sri Lanka on Sunday and, with the pressure on, made the most of the unexpected lifeline.
Selectors rationalised his recall by saying they wanted his bowling experience in the conditions after a seamer was dropped to accommodate spinner Xavier Doherty, but it was with the bat that the blowtorch was always going to be on.
With Steve Smith having taken his No.3 spot with both hands, it was further down the order that Watson had to be satisfied with making his contribution and he did so with an important support role alongside century-maker Glenn Maxwell, making 67 from 41 balls as if sparked into action by his sacking.
Later, he was expensive with the ball, going at more than 10 an over as the Sri Lankans chased a mammoth target, although he did claim the key wicket of opposition captain Angelo Mathews.
Watson’s figures, like Doherty’s, were not pretty, interesting given the fact it was that element of his game that won him a reprieve. Even so his future as an Australian player looks far healthier than it did midway through last week thanks to his deeds with the bat.
The 33-year-old’s appearance at No.6 wasn’t just a much-needed injection of confidence but also an indicator of where he could feature beyond this World Cup in Australia’s Test series in the Caribbean and England if he can continue to make runs.
He has, of course, always preferred to be at the top of the order, but having been confronted by his own cricketing mortality since carrying the drinks at the WACA last Wednesday and with Smith stepping up at No.3, he will surely take a place wherever he can.
Watson’s naming in the team on Sunday instead of Mitchell Marsh had been a perplexing one. National selector Rod Marsh said of the decision to axe Watson before the game against Afghanistan that he would probably have to “rely on someone else’s lack of form or an injury to get back in” but despite Marsh not doing much wrong in a record World Cup win over the minnows, and having taken five wickets in the victory over England at the MCG, he is now back on the outer. Mark Waugh was the selector on duty in Sydney, picking the team with coach Darren Lehmann.
“You’ll have to ask the selectors,” was captain Michael Clarke’s pre-match explanation of the changes, headlined by Watson’s recall, and he refused to delve into selection matters too deeply after the match either, jokingly gesturing like he was reeling in a fish when asked what he thought of the about-face on the allrounder.
“I”m not going there. The selectors pick the 11 players and my job is to try and get the best out of the 11 players There is no chance I am getting hold of that hook,” Clarke said with a smile, before adding: “I thought the selectors made it pretty clear and I tried to make it clear at the toss of the coin that (it was) horses for courses in regards to selection today. They went for the extra experience with Watto in the bowling department, only playing two frontline fast bowlers. That was a big part of why they made that call.”
On Watson’s performance, Clarke said: “I thought he played really well. His batting was how we know Watto can bat. He’s got amazing power and I think he played a big part in helping set the game up, that partnership with Maxy. Then he held his nerve under pressure I guess with the ball as well. That was a real test for us out there for us today. As games continue to move forward and you get into the knockout stages of this tournament we’re going to be under pressure and I thought the way all the bowlers held their nerve today was exceptional.”
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