The day is July 13th of 2010, a cricketer by the name of Shane Robert Watson is having fun, as the batsmen in the Pakistan team seem to be thinking that they are still kids and as a result should bludgeon every ball that Watson bowls into the orbit. One by one, every batsman in the team loses his wicket to a bowler whose run-up borderlines on being lazy. It was surreal to see Shane Watson of all bowlers taking a five wicket haul and with a sense of bewilderment, I saw his name being mentioned on Lord's honours board.
The day is September 1st of 2011, the obdurate Paranavitana and the man who seems to bat till the cows come home on Lankan tracks, Samaraweera are straining every sinew in a bid to take Lanka out of troubled waters. What more, they both seem to have succeeded in their endavour of taking Lanka into a safer position, but again, the friendly pace of Watson destroys Lanka's middle-order and they are all out for just 105.
Looking at the above two instances, a casual cricket viewer may feel a bit jealous by thinking that God has bestowed Watson with divine luck, as here is a bowler, who seems to pick wickets with innocuous deliveries all the time. I though, don't think Watson's bowling is all about being lucky. So in this article, I would look at why Watson keeps surprising his critics by taking wickets at a crucial juncture in a match.
Watson doesn't have McGrath's zen like mind-set of hitting the top of off-stump every-time he bowled, neither is he Jimmy Anderson to swing it like a boomerang yet, when Australia desperately need a wicket, it is invariably Shane Watson who takes the wicket. So what is the secret behind Watson's success as a bowler in test cricket? In my opinion, the prime reason for his success is, Watson is a bowler, who unlike a few other present day Australian seamers has an excellent cricket brain. A few may laugh aloud, when I say that Watson has brains, as he is known as a knobhead, but the more I see of Watson as a bowler, the more convinced I am that Watson is a clever seamer.
To understand it, just compare the overrated Hilfy and Johnson with Watson. In the Ashes, it seemed like the famed Australian cricket academy had manufactured a robot by the name of Hilfenhaus, who was remote controlled to bowl every delivery with a mechanical action and that too well outside the off-stump. I even thought that Hilfy's monotonous bowling could be a good cure for insomnia. The fact is, a bowler who never uses the crease, bowls almost every delivery at the same spot and rarely makes the batsmen play, won't succeed. In the first test at Galle, Johnson's bowling wasn't much different to what Hilfy did in the Ashes either. Only when there is pace and bounce in the wicket, does Johnson look threatening in test cricket, unless of course it is something to do with his zodiac signs which may have helped Mitch to swing it late at WACA against England.
Now, compare those two bowlers with how Watson bowled at Galle. The one dismissal I can clearly remember is, Watson bowling a brute of a delivery in the second innings to remove the dangerman in the opposition ranks Sangakkara. Yes, he could bowl that brute of a delivery mainly due to the pitch which was playing tricks on the batsmen, but the way Watson went wide of the crease to create a bit of angle showed that here is a bowler, who puts his thinking cap on, to outsmart the best of batsmen. Watson also banged it into the pitch to create a bit more variable bounce which in turn, helped him to dismiss Sanga. In the first innings, before Watson came onto bowl, the Australian seamers were tending to bowl just outside the off-stump, but Watson just zeroed in on the stumps and reaped benefits on a wicket that was keeping low.
After the match got over, Srilankan batsmen were perhaps left wondering how on earth could they have got out to a Mickey mouse bowler like Watson? The fact is, it is high time the Lankan batsmen take Watson seriously as on dry tracks, he can be a threat.
He was good in the Ashes series against England as well. Yes, he didn't take too many wickets, but that didn't stop Watto from looking at ways to outsmart the batsmen. For instance, he was perhaps the only bowler who looked to bowl a good length and outside the off-stump to Ian Bell, as even now Bell has the habit of chasing a delivery that is bowled around the good length spot and just outside the off-stump. When everyone tried to attack KP's stumps by bringing it back into the right-hander, it was Watson who realised that KP was more vulnerable against the outswinger. Anyone remembers Aussie bowlers bowling wide of off-stump to Trott at Gabba, before Watson came into bowl and got a bit of cut back into the right-hander to uproot his stumps? Here, Trott has the habit of walking across his stumps, but before Watson came into bowl, a few robots were trying to bowl well outside the off-stump to him. On expected lines, Trott was leaving all those wasted deliveries to go by harmlessly into the keeper's gloves.
In the WC played in the subcontinent this year, Watson yet again showed his class by trying a short delivery at S'wag on a pitch that was very slow. Most medium pacers wouldn't have tried bowling short on that slow pitch. Watson though, took a gamble of banging it into the pitch, as S'wag can occasionally be vulnerable against the short delivery and was rewarded with S'wag's wicket.
Watson's success as a bowler is based on subtle changes in the way he uses the crease, the cutters he bowls on dry wickets like at Galle and how quickly, he is able to assess the slightest weakness that a batsman has. Watson can swing it conventionally and as we saw at Galle, he can also get a bit of reverse swing with the old ball. He though, takes crucial wickets mainly because, he is a clever bowler. Watson may come across as a annoying character on a cricket field, but with a ball in hand, he is a smart operator.
Finally, I may have showered praises on the way Watson bowled at Galle, but to be honest, I underestimated his prowess as a bowler by considering him as a batting all-rounder in my last article. In my defence though, on twitter, I did predict that Watson can be the surprise package at Galle after seeing a dry pitch lol.