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Waiting for Watto, a masterpiece eight years in the making

Shane Watson's century: 114 balls and 172 minutes plus 47 Test innings and three years.

Shane Watson's century: 114 balls and 172 minutes plus 47 Test innings and three years. Photo: Reuters

In Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett wrote that men are always blaming their boots for the faults of their feet. In Waiting for Watto, which finished its current season at the Oval on Wednesday, Shane Watson finally took responsibility for his footwork.

But what a wait it had been. When he reached his third century in eight years of Test cricket, Watson bowed his head and humbly raised his arms, in apology as much as acceptance. The ground announcer read out that it had taken 114 balls and 172 minutes. Such was the batsman's weary pose, he might have added: 'And 47 Test innings. And three years.' And an aeon of missed opportunities.

A summary of Watson's strokeplay reveals little out of the ordinary. His pull shots were savage, his driving crisp. He seldom played a ball with anything other than the meaty centre of his bat. But that can be said of any Watson

Shane Watson of Australia celebrates his century. Click for more photos

Ashes fifth test - Day 1

All the action from the fifth Ashes Test match between England and Australia at the Kia Oval in London, England. Follow us at http://twitter.com/photosSMH Photo: Getty

innings. A Watson 30, of which we have seen many, contains more crashing boundaries than a Chris Rogers century.

The difference with this innings was that, like a Fidel Castro speech, it did not stop on the hour. Its true story is told in what did not happen. He did not fall lbw. The first late James Anderson inswinger, on the eighth ball Watson faced, caught the inside edge on the way through to that looming front pad. On his 13th ball, Watson missed the inswinger and was hit in front. The umpire gave him not out. If it had gone to DRS, the replay showed that an unfavourable onfield decision would have been upheld – as has happened repeatedly to Watson through the series.

Little things counted for a lot. When Watson flicked down the leg side, he missed, rather than nicking as at Chester-le-Street. When he was set up for the inswinger, he got his bat down in time. His head moved forward down the wicket, rather than across towards cover. He kept the good ones out. Placid defensive shots and non-occurrences defined this innings.

Watson's innings was characterised by savage pull shots.

Watson's innings was characterised by savage pull shots. Photo: Getty Images

Then there was the assistance given by England's venturesome selections.

Rather than replacing Tim Bresnan with the next-best seamer in Chris Tremlett or Stephen Finn, England took a leaf out of Australia's book and went for a domino effect. They chose two debutants, Simon Kerrigan as a second spinner. To cover for that risk, a bowling all-rounder, Chris Woakes was brought in as well. This had a major influence on Watson's prospects, because when Anderson and Stuart Broad were finishing their first spells, and Watson was entering the customary danger period, he was gifted some park-quality bowling. Woakes came on when Watson was 12. While Rogers was painfully invigilating against Graeme Swann at the other end, Watson peeled off 55 runs from 27 balls from Woakes and then Kerrigan, who replaced Swann. Watson was able to sail through the nervous 30s, 40s and 50s in a matter of minutes. At lunch he was 80, well on his way.

From that point, the keynote of Watson's innings remained the absences.

No wafty off drives. No front-foot late cuts. No turning the straight ball behind square leg. None of the brain snaps that have stranded him in the nervous 90s.

He said later that having his brain assailed from the outside might have knocked some sense into him during that period. A searing Broad bouncer caught him behind his left ear on 91; painkillers were required, and he went through his 90s as if under sedation.

For much of the afternoon, Watson had an eternal look about him. He gave one chance, on 104, when Alastair Cook dropped him at slip. Otherwise he proceeded with the stateliness of a grande dame. One of the most impressive features of his innings was his ability to turn Swann away in front of square leg to jog away from the striker's end. The gluey trudge, which in other circumstances can seem so maudlin, now had an air of permanent occupation.

When he ran down the wicket for a single and Anderson blocked him, Watson barrelled into the bowler, forcing a complaint to the umpire. It was not the day to get in Watson's way.

Just as Watson set himself for stumps, he was well caught by Kevin Pietersen in the leg-side boundary mousetrap, and his innings came to an end on 176. The feeling of having done this in the fifth Test rather than earlier, he admitted, was bittersweet. He had been searching his soul, and this was what he came up with. His wait, and everybody's, was over. It might have been too late, but it wasn't too little.

22 comments so far

  • my favourite moment of the day was... watson hit the ball so hard that Kevin peterson who was fielding at the boundary didnt notice the ball passing him(few metres away) to the boundary.. KP didnt knew what happened.. he stood still.. the expression on KP's face was hilarious.. everybody looked at him n then he realised that the ball went to the boundary.. he said "i didnt see the ball"... hilarious.. i laughed like hell

    Commenter
    jack thomas
    Date and time
    August 22, 2013, 6:08AM
    • Finally...well done Watto. All the naysayers and rampant online armchair "experts" bow your heads.

      Commenter
      Occyman
      Date and time
      August 22, 2013, 6:24AM
      • Peter Burge. Largish Queenslander. valued member of the team. averaged "only" 38 with 4 tons in 40+ tests. none of them in his first 5 years in and out of the team. but he was there for the big moments. 181 and 160 on successive tours of England.

        Ask Chappelli and he will tell you how valued he was.

        The cheapening of a career to rote stats (no tons in 3 years, only 2 tons v 20 50's, only 2 tons in 40+ tests, out LB more than anyone etc etc) and comparison against the par exemplar benchmarks like Ponting is killing cricket analysis and reporting. And it demeans the value of 80s and 90s, especially under pressure.

        Here's to the guys who averaged in the 30s, Trumper, Burge, Sheahan, McCosker, Hughes, Ritchie, Blewett, North, Watson. More to come...

        They are not everything. But we should stop pretending they are nothing.

        Commenter
        Peter Warrington
        Location
        marrickville
        Date and time
        August 22, 2013, 7:51AM
        • Most of the guys you have mentioned, apart from Trumper, are regarded as nearly men. Nearly good enough for Test cricket. When you have a batting line-up with more nearly men than good/great Test cricketers, then the team loses more games than it wins. The shortfall of McCosker was masked by the greatness of the Chappell brothers, Walters etc. The team of this era was successful. Nearly man Hughes mostly only played with 1 great player, Border. This team's record was similar to the record of the current team which only has 1 batsman up to it; Clarke.

          Commenter
          Growler
          Location
          The Couch
          Date and time
          August 22, 2013, 1:49PM
        • that's my point. there as many nearly men as there are champions and they, too, should be celebrated. Warner Hughes Watson Khawaja Smith Cowan might all end up in that category, or 2-3 might make it into the very good category (we know from Watson's 9-11 form that he has that level, but it's probable that his form has generally declined from then, and bowlers have worked him out, too.)

          McCosker was part of a declining team after 76 and missed his last chance due to WSC (being picked unfathomably late at 28 or 29 by the standards of the time).

          Burge was a maybe but Chappelli, and Richie Benaud, will tell you what an important asset to the team he was.

          It's very rare to have a Langer Hayden Ponting Martyn Waugh somebody lineup at the same time, product I reckon of being blooded young, a general decline in test standards elsewhere and a general lull in bowling (both latter factors being reversed now.)

          so i prefer to judge guys by the 150-year standard, not the false (as in incomparable) standard of 95-05.

          BTW, Hughes played with GS Chappell, the best batsman I have seen. probably 36 of his 70 tests off the top of my head. Hughes was no nearly man, not from 78-84, anyway. his decline was unfairly swift and steep. another, different story...

          Commenter
          Peter Warrington
          Location
          marrickville
          Date and time
          August 22, 2013, 4:37PM
        • Watson has played more Tests in the last 18 months than Burge would have played in 5 years. This is not about time, it is about missed opportunities and faith that has not been repaid. Last night was a start, but it cannot be the end.

          Commenter
          Stephen
          Date and time
          August 22, 2013, 7:57PM
      • Groan. Way too late for the Ashes, as he has the grace to admit, but just in time to salvage his career for the summer so he can keep wrecking the team. England will be happy. Oh wait a minute, thaaaaat's why the picked Kerrigan & Noakes.

        Commenter
        harley
        Date and time
        August 22, 2013, 9:15AM
        • If Shane Watson scores a century every match for the rest of his career, some cricket writers will still complain that he didn't score any in the past three years. Malcolm Knox is normally an excellent read but this nitpicking of the shouldabeen outs and the occasional wayward shots that didn't find an edge and the fact that Watto filleted the easy meat of the England bowling (while poor little Chris Rogers had to deal with the nasty Mr Swann) is indicative of a rift, not in the Australian dressing room but in the Australian Press corps.
          Members of the pro-Clarke, anti-Watto cheer squad are surely missing the point. The team has moved on, hatchets have been buried, men have manned up and good things are starting to happen. This is how sport works - the mighty fall, the truly great then rise again. They're not there yet but the ship is surely starting to turn, if only on the pitch, it seems.
          How many utterly flawless centuries have there been in recent years? To dwell on dropped catches (on 104, no less) and unreviewed not-outs betrays a tendency to acknowledge positives only grudgingly, if at all. To categorise a century scored in just under a run a ball as "placid defensive shots and non-occurrences" suggests resentment, rather than relief that Watto has found his mojo again.
          What next? A hate campaign against Chris Rogers for not getting into the Test side sooner? White-anting Patrick Cummins for daring to get injured when we needed him most?
          Australian sports writers seem to have two gears, cancerous negativity and laughable over-optimism. Cricket writers are supposed to be better than that. A little cool, informed, unbiased assessment would go a long way. Thank the cricket gods for Chloe Saltau.

          Commenter
          JimmyT
          Location
          Sydney
          Date and time
          August 22, 2013, 9:57AM
          • Jimmy, I agree with most of this. and the sarcasm and the cynicism of most of the commenters on these pages makes me want to vomit sometimes, too. all the rumour mongering and character assassination, of people they have never met and never will.

            It's a great game with a great history, it's been a really entertaining series, the better side is winning because their bowling has been at times superb, and our emerging side is starting to, you guessed it, emerge. 1972 with a different scoreline.

            Greg Baum was sending allegedly funny tweets last night. join the comedy festival if you want. report on the cricket - why is nobody remarking on the fact we have gone in on a spinning wicket with 5 seamers. seam strange, as the subbies might headline it?

            Watson's was a sensational knock. the Poms were on fire when he got in, he survived. then prospered, while Rogers and Clarke struggled. it was fluent, balanced, counter-attacking, and punishing, a perfect Ian Chappell #3 innings. all the while knowing at least half the country wanted him to fail. and the other half wanted Clarke to fail. pathetic!

            if he never plays another innings, he will have added to the grand narrative of Australian cricket history. even though I thought he was dead at 91, seemingly a worser blow than his namesake Graeme copped in 71-2.

            game on from here. I'd be after quick runs and bowling after lunch, because we have 500 seamers and any juice will be gone soon.

            PS well bowled Anderson and Broad, fast becoming the Gillespie-McGrath combination, on their good days at least.

            and unlike many others, I would love Steve Smith to shove a ton down his many knockers' throats.

            Commenter
            Peter Warrington
            Location
            marrickville
            Date and time
            August 22, 2013, 12:48PM
          • I'm a Pom and agree with everything you say Jimmy. Unfortunately, "news" today is nothing more than opinionated sensationalism and while the English press have a lot to answer for, the poisonous Aussie media are in a different league. Watto always comes across as a decent guy to me and I'm genuinely pleased for him.

            Commenter
            Komi Punte
            Location
            Brisbane
            Date and time
            August 22, 2013, 12:57PM

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