Friday, 4 May 2012

Shane Watson: Against Nature

Few batsmen fail as rarely as Shane Watson. Unfortunately for him, few batsmen succeed as rarely as Shane Watson, either. Here are his consecutive Test innings from July to December 2009: 62, 53, 51, 34, 40, 0, 96, 48, 89, 30, 93; and from October 2010 to September 2011: 56, 57, 32, 36, 41, 51, 57, 13, 95, 5, 54, 45, 38, 22, 0, 36. They are arbitrarily selected, but they represent nearly half of his career, and reflect his almost morbid consistency.

If you were to imagine average as a horizontal line on a graph with each innings marked as a dot either above or below that line, great players would produce something like the cardiograph you get in soap operas as a lead character lies liminally between life and death, with its peaks and with its valleys. Shane's would look more like the moment that the patient flat-lines and the doctors rush in to close the curtains, usher out the mistress and fire up the defibrillator.

Watson is an Australian straight off the drawing board. He presents such a convincing physical embodiment of their sunny idyll that the selectors seem to be investing in the inevitability of his success. You don't need Moneyball or the Availability Heuristic to think that if Shane Watson looked like Simon Katich, he might not have had the same opportunities. In the great certainty that his batting produces lies the uncertainty over him and his team.

He opened the batting in all of the innings listed above, something he has done 45 times out of the 64 occasions he has gone to the crease for Australia. A further six have come at his new position at number three, where, along with David Warner and Ed Cowan, he completes a trio of batsmen far less convincing than the three that follow.

It might not be fair to compare him to Ponting, who he periodically enjoys running out, or Dravid or Lara or Sanga, but it's worth looking at players of the same generation as him who fill that spot. Jonathan Trott has batted 48 times for England, making seven hundreds and nine fifties. Hashim Amla has gone in 103 times for South Africa, and made 14 hundreds and 23 fifties. Multiplied out, Trott is making scores at roughly the same rate and weight as Amla. Watson, who falls between the two in terms of experience, has batted 64 times, making two hundreds and 18 fifties. Trott's centuries include two doubles, a 184 and a 168. Amla has a highest score of 253, and four others above 140. Watto's best is 126. He has one less Test ton than Ravi Bopara.

It's against the nature and the history of batsmanship to be out for a median score as often as Shane is. Ultimately the greatest quality in batting is to be able to stay in, because everything else springs from that. Why can't he do it? Well, that might be asking to know something of his psyche or his soul. From the outside, he seems to be a momentum player, internal rhythms attuned to constant motion, disrupted when the flow is dried by the inevitable raising of defences by the bowling side as the game moves on.

Hashim Amla has made 52 per cent of his Test runs in boundaries and sixes. Jonathan Trott has made 44 per cent of his that way, Alastair Cook 46 per cent, Ricky Ponting 48 per cent, Kevin Pietersen 54 per cent. Watson has a percentage above all of them at 57. Only freaks like Sehwag with 67 per cent and Chris Gayle with 75 per cent go beyond him, and they each have two triple centuries in Test cricket. The stats suggest two things about the way Watson plays: that he needs boundaries to build his score, and that he gets out trying to hit them once the field goes back. Both are symptomatic of a player who either doesn't look at where the field is, or who can't keep hitting the gaps. That's guesswork, though. Perhaps Shane is just a rebours.

NB: Australia's best batting order, as selected by an entirely unqualified Englishman: Warner, Cowan, Hussey, Clarke, Ponting, Watson.

13 comments:

Tim Newman said...

Why can't he do it? Well, that might be asking to know something of his psyche or his soul.

Because he's an Aussie: his attention span just isn't long enough to stay in until he reaches 100. ;)

Tim Newman said...

"NB: Australia's best batting order, as selected by an entirely unqualified Englishman: Warner, Cowan, Hussey, Clarke, Ponting, Watson."

Watson coming in at 6 is a fearsome prospect, but I suspect the tail couldn't bat with him like they can Hussey. Watto would have them all runout within 30 runs. :)

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karann1986 said...

Watson is one of the best all rounder at present.He is the one who can hit sixes at will and can bowl consistently at 140 kmph and a wicket taker.
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Russ said...

It is very unnatural. We rarely think of it in these terms, but making a big score with the bat is a progression of lucky breaks. An excellent batsman is generally a 1 in 50 chance of getting out before making his next run, and that probability doesn't vary very much once they get past 4 or 5.

For Watson to be "consistent" he needs both an unusually high ability to get through the first few runs, and then a significant drop after passing 50.

Perhaps he has been lucky to get so many starts, and his true average is much lower. Less likely, the opposite. Perhaps a bit of both. It seems hard to believe someone could combine the mental frailty of repeated post-50 failures with such a remarkable ability to make double figures.

Pete said...

Watson is the Aussies best hope of getting he Ashes back!

David McDonald said...

I usually follow your blog via the RSS feed, but I just popped by to say great post, and unlike Watson, you consistently deliver!

I could never warm to Watson. I don't whether it was the ridiculous facial expressions (apparently senior teammates told him to stop reacting as much as he was), or the ghost stories (Darren Gough made my night during that T20).

But, to me, it always looked like after seeing what Flintoff has done to them in the 2005 Ashes, Crciket Australia had become so desperate for an all rounder that they recruited a fugitive NAzi mad scientist and gave hima lab and no directions bar "Create the Ultimate All Rounder".

The result was what appeared to be an Aryan Super Cricketer, blonde hair, the big muscles of a body builder and the buttocks of of Fred Trueman.

But, sometimes science dares too much and something went terribly wrong with the experiment. Like the Bizarro version of Superman, his powers were slightly warped and he was not quite as robust as...well I can't say the original because Freddie was half crocked when not being amazing.

Anyway, creative writing aside, imagine how much bigger that monkey on his back might have been had not Pakistan dropped him on 96 (I think) in that Test Match after he was out in the nineties so many times!

The Old Batsman said...

Probably should have included in this post a paragraph that I took out, which asked explicitly whether someone who scored their average almost every time they batted was worth more or less than someone who assembled scores in the normal way. In the end, it's impossible to answer, mainly becxause Watto is the only person who's come close to doing so. And he's still got fewer test hundreds than Phil Hughes. And the same number as Kirk Edwards.

David - thanks - good to see you dropping by!

Graeme said...

I think someone who can be relied on to get his average is a useful player to have, but only down-the-order. Someone who consistently gets 40 at number 7 or 8 is decidely useful. To win games, you generally need a batter or 2 to make a big score - which you are unlikely ever to get from a player such as Watson, on the basis of his career so far.

Cricket Games said...

shane watson is a best crickter he performed so well on ipl before and recently also..........

SB Tang said...

Thanks to The Old Batsman for another great piece. However, being a self-described “entirely unqualified Englishman”, I reckon he’s gotten one cultural-historical point wrong, and I disagree with his tentative answer to the question of why Watson can’t convert his many starts into big scores. Sadly, I couldn't cram my full response into this comment box so here's a link to it: http://astraightbat.wordpress.com/2012/05/24/shane-watson-a-care-bear-in-the-body-of-a-nordic-superhero/

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I could not agree more with Tim Newman, Shane Watson should not be in the first position, but unlike Tim, I would put Watson in the 5th position