SYDNEY (Reuters) - Whatever role he ultimately plays in the Australia team this year, the sight of Shane Watson driving and pulling his way to a blockbuster of a century at Manuka Oval on Wednesday was a joy for his compatriots to behold.
The injury-prone 31-year-old missed much of the domestic season with a calf problem but looked back to his aggressive best as he blasted 122 runs off 111 balls to help Australia clinch the one-day series against West Indies.
Whether it be as specialist opener, top order batsman or all-rounder, a fit and firing Watson will be a major asset for Australia’s test team as they embark on a tough trip to India followed by back-to-back Ashes series this year.
“I was starting to worry that I didn’t have enough form so it was nice to spend some time in the middle,” Watson said after the 39-run victory in Canberra.
“When you don’t play for a while, you think you’ve lost it, so it’s nice to feel you’ve still got it.”
With 8,000 runs in all three forms of the game at international level, Watson has clearly “got it”. What remains to be seen is what use Australia make of him.
The injury problems that have bedevilled him throughout his career have brought what he hopes will be a temporary end to his bowling and on Wednesday, he was restricted to a role as a batsman.
The bare statistics tell that his right arm medium pace bowling has taken 62 wickets in 38 tests at an average of 30.06 but what they do not show is how important those wickets were in the context of the match.
Captain Michael Clarke knows that very well and he is extremely keen to be once again in a position where he can toss the burly blond the ball when a breakthrough is required.
“I think everybody including Shane is hoping that if he comes back and gets into his batting... he can slowly get back into his bowling as well,” Clarke said at the Allan Border Medal ceremony on Monday.
Clarke went on to say that Watson’s chances of a place in the team would be improved by having the all-rounder tag attached to his name.
“The pool of batsmen is a much bigger pool than the pool of all-rounders in Australian cricket at the moment. But Shane knows if he’s at his best, he’s as good as any player in the world let alone the Australian team,” Clarke said of the Australian Cricketer of the Year.
“Our goal as a team is to help Watto get back to his best. Hopefully that’s batting and bowling in time...”
Watson has given up all hopes of contributing with the ball in India but is hoping he will be able to supplement the bowling attack by the time Australia get to England for the first Ashes series.
“I know that’s looking a long way forward, but just even physically to give myself a chance to be able to get to that is a dream for me at the moment,” he said recently.
It was in the middle of the 2009 Ashes series that Watson was promoted to the top of the order and where he bats is another thorny issue for the Australian team management to consider.
“I love opening the batting in all forms of the game, particularly in tests, but with that I do 100 percent appreciate I just want a spot in the test team, I am happy to fit in anywhere,” Watson, who has played 24 of his 38 tests as an opener, said on Wednesday.
His team-spirited tact may have been influenced by the presence alongside him at the press conference of his fellow 31-year-old Clarke, who as a member of the selection panel will have the final say on the matter.
“Watto will bat wherever is best for the team,” Clarke said. “What we need is him making runs for us, whether it’s opening the batting or coming in at number three or number four.” (Editing by John O‘Brien)