A roller-coaster journey

A roller-coaster journey

Personality : In a 14-year career marred by injuries, Shane Watson pursued his goals through sheer hard work

A roller-coaster journey

Failed Test cricketers or greats of limited-overs cricket? Shane Watson and Shahid Afridi’s careers didn’t exactly run parallel but there are many similarities between the two all-rounders of contrasting nature and skill sets.

Watson will retire at the end of Australia’s campaign in the ongoing World T20 – it could all end on Sunday with a defeat to India or he may finish with all glory in Kolkata on April 3. Afridi, in all likelihood, will be forced into calling it quits after Pakistan’s miserable run in the tournament came to an end with a defeat to Australia on Friday.

The manner in which the two are exiting from international cricket is also, in a way, a reflection of their respective careers shaped by the cricketing cultures of their countries. What, however, links the two together is their exploits in the shorter versions, especially in one-day internationals, and their failure to replicate those performances in Test cricket.
Watson’s has been a roller-coaster ride since his international debut in 2002.

His 14-year career was marred by every conceivable injury a sportsman can endure -- recurring back stress fractures, pulled hamstrings, calf problems, hip injuries, dislocated shoulder… The list is endless. In the initial few years of his career, he perhaps spent more time on hospital beds than on the cricket field. Quitting the game would have been an easier option but Watson persisted with his dream, changed his training regimen and resuscitated his halting career.

“I am just really making the most of these last few games that I've got,” said Watson. “After I announced my retirement, over the last day I have been reminiscing a bit more. It's the first time I really sat back and really looked at my career and the different highlights; more than anything they're the ones that really stand out the most. Even from a young age, the age of 20, I've got so many incredible memories.

It really is the first time in my whole career that I've had the chance to just spend some time thinking about how incredibly lucky and fortunate I've been and the amazing things I've been fortunate enough to be able to experience throughout my career. I know how much a privilege it's been to be able to play for my country and I'm going to make the most of these last few games,” he remarked.

For all his talent, Watson couldn’t make the desired impact in the longer version. A tally of 3731 runs at an average of 35.19 in 59 Tests doesn’t do justice to the quality of his batting. Neither do those 75 wickets at 33.68. Replace those whites with gold and green and Watson is a different beast altogether. He has scored 5757 runs in 190 ODIs at a more than acceptable average of 40.54 and at an impressive strike rate of 90.44. If you add 168 wickets and an economy of 4.95 runs per over, you know, his place in the history of the game is assured.

Watson enjoyed his best years between 2007 and 2011 when he truly emerged as one of the best limited-overs all-rounders in the world. During this five-year period, the right-hander played 88 ODIs, piled on 3452 runs at an average of 47.28, maintained strike rate of 94.54 and claimed 86 wickets. He was also one of the few cricketers to have mastered the sub-continental conditions where he scored 1786 runs at 48.27 and at a strike rate of 94.34 spread over 42 matches.

The sample to measure greatness in T20s is quite small and especially so if you are an Australian cricketer who doesn’t get to play as many T20Is as, say for example, India because of Cricket Australia policy. Yet, his numbers stack up favourably with the best in the format – 1444 runs at an average of 28.88 and at a staggering strike rate of 145.85 in 57 appearances. He has also taken 46 wickets and has an acceptable economy of 7.70. The numbers in T20Is may improve further depending upon Australia’s performance in the remaining part of the World T20.

Watson’s contribution to Australian cricket went beyond these numbers though. His brush with captaincy was all too brief and eminently forgettable but his leadership qualities within the set-up were well recognised.

“I've obviously spent a lot of time with Shane,” said all-rounder James Faulkner, highlighting the positive influence Watson had on him. “I was on the road with him for seven or eight months - playing in the IPL, Champions League, the ODI series here a couple of years ago, the England Ashes. He's always been very supportive of my game. He's very supportive of all the young players in general. Especially when you come into the team, there is a lot of expectations. He's one of the first to come up and make you feel welcome in the group and make you lift the standard. When everyone heard the news (of Watson’s retirement), there was obviously a lot of sad players - the ones who have played a lot of cricket with him. There are a few who have played only two or three games. It's different for them. But he's been great for my cricket and I can't thank him enough,” he explained.

Watson will also be looking to exorcise the ghosts of 2013 Test series when he was one of the four Australian cricketers to be punished in what came to be known as “home-work gate”.

“Yes and it was here in Mohali as well,” remarked Watson when asked if it was the worst moment of his career. “It’s a good thing we’re not staying in (that) hotel because I’ve got a bad memory of one of those rooms in particular there… So that’s given me some nice memories coming back to Mohali. But yeah that wasn’t really one of my high points, being suspended from a Test match for not doing my homework that I didn’t realise I had to do.”

The then captain-coach combine of Michael Clarke and Mickey Arthur left out Watson, along with three others, for not doing their homework for Mohali’s third Test. An emotional Watson came close to quitting the game. He left for Australia, apparently to be by his wife’s side for the birth of their first child. The Queenslander, however, returned within a few days to lead Australia in the fourth and final Test in Delhi after Clarke had to withdraw owing to an injury. Australia lost the match in three days in Delhi and Watson’s captaincy ended with that defeat.

In Mohali came one his low points but Watson has an opportunity to redeem himself when Australia meet India in a do or die match on Sunday at the PCA stadium.

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