Shane Watson finds himself mired in a very difficult situation. His five innings in the Ashes series so far have been abject disappointments, not to mention extremely frustrating. His stance at the crease resembles more awkwardness than ease; discomfiture best describes his play at the opening even as his manner of losing his wicket presents a perplexing irony about his oft-stated calibre.
Though most of the Australian squad has been at the receiving end, thanks to their no-show in the opening two test matches, the brunt of the verbal and written onslaught has been borne by Watson. Even those singing his praises previously have become turncoats in their opinion of him, demoting him down to an unwanted encumbrance in the Australian line-up. But no matter how less-than impressive his performances may have been in the Ashes so far, Watson doesn’t really deserve all this flak aimed at him.
While the LBWs do reflect Watson’s ineptitude in many ways, they don’t necessarily translate to him not being a quality test player. And if Watson indeed wasn’t a qualitative test player, then what about the rest of the Australian batting order who weren’t able to get anything done at all – as evident in the second test. The Australian second innings in the second test at Lord’s saw the utter crumbling of the Australian batting order, a shameful fact that the captain himself was forced to allude to in his post-match speech. Watson then was just the tip of the iceberg with far greater embarrassments laid out for the Australian squad as the match progressed.
The first innings of the third test match saw both the on-field and the third umpire heavily criticised for giving Usman Khawaja out when the DRS clearly showed the Australian in the clear. With the technology being as faulted as it is, the blame that has been transferred onto Watson, challenging a LBW call given by the on-field umpire presents a different perspective about the matter at hand.
DRS has quite a few technical aspects that are still being sought to be cleared by the ICC. At best, the technology is still experimental with players still trying to get their bearings right by it. Watson then deservedly merits excusing for using the review granted to him – his team – even as he can’t be excused for plonking his front foot wrongly, allowing the umpire to give LBW in the first place.
The problem at large however isn’t about Watson not scoring runs or his continued inability to take the most appropriate of batting stances. It’s mainly about the attitudinal prevalence around the cricketer as he flails around, parodying himself cheaply. Attention seems to be riveted on him alone. It’s as though the world has come to expect him fall short. And when he does, even if it is in the most casual of manners, the world sees its judgements as coming to pass; marking Watson as the bulls-eye all over again. Thus no matter what Watson does or doesn’t do, he’s already become a mark.
A circumstantial occurrence, this is a trajectory that quite a few players have been subjected to. The Australian coach’s support at this point thus sets a significant precedence in Watson’s favour. Lehmann’s unwavering faith in Watson, after a slew of unsavoury comments, will definitely change the trend in Watson’s performance. Such a change may not be as immediate as Watson’s fan following may expect it to be, but a change towards positivity is indeed imminent. When that happens, the Australian fortunes will indeed brighten again as will the turncoats who will change their opinions – yet again. Incidentally, it will be Watson who will enjoy the last laugh; and deservingly so.