Shane Watson’s endlessly enigmatic Test career for Australia is over. He had played 59 Tests beginning in 2005, scoring 3731 runs at 35.19 and taking 75 wickets at 33.68. Injury issues afflicted Watson for much of his time around the side, and he never reached the heights that many, including himself, had expected of him in Tests.
Watson’s decision to quit the longest format comes in the wake of Australia’s loss to England in the 2015 Ashes, a day after he had to leave the field during a one-dayer at Lord’s due to “minor right calf strain”. He announced his decision after it was decided the strain would keep him out of the rest of the ODI series.
“It has been a decision that hasn’t come lightly, over the last month especially,” Watson said while announcing his decision. “I know it’s the right time to move on and still hopefully play the shorter formats of the game, one-dayers and T20s. I’ve been through a lot of different waves of emotion about what is right for myself, my family and most importantly, the team as well. There wasn’t really one exact moment, because I’ve been through a lot of different sort of mindsets: believing the right thing is to play on, to the next day to ‘nah, I think the right thing is to retire from Test cricket’.
“The past couple of days, for whatever reason, I had the clarity in my mind about what the right decision is. I just know that I’ve given everything I possibly can to get the best out of myself. I just know it’s the right time to move on. I don’t have that real fight in me, especially for Test cricket, knowing the lengths physically that I’d have to go through, mentally and technically as well, to be at my best in Test cricket, so I just know it’s the right time.”
A measure of Watson’s battles with injury can be found in the fact that he has played around half of Australia’s Test matches since his debut against Pakistan at the SCG in January 2005. By that stage he had already fought numerous fitness battles, largely soft tissue injuries related to bowling, and they would continue to a point when he was told by CA medical staff that it would be easier for Watson to simply give up his allrounder status.
However he was able to find a greater level of physical durability as a result of work with physios outside the team, including the Brisbane-based Victor Popov and the Rajasthan Royals’ John Gloster. It was in the IPL that Watson first showed he would be able to build a more substantial career, as the dominant player in the Royals’ unexpected victory in the inaugural tournament in 2008. From there Watson would go on to regain his Test place, and develop a highly effective opening combination with Simon Katich after they were thrown together during the 2009 Ashes tour.
Over the next two years they were the world’s foremost opening combination, and one of few components of the Australian side to work effectively as Ricky Ponting’s captaincy tenure wound down. Ponting and Watson have always been close, and over this period he was at his most consistent with the bat while also bowling key spells with the ball. Nevertheless, his recurring tendencies to get out lbw and also to lose his wicket short of a century were both in evidence even then.
After Katich was unjustly dropped from the list of Cricket Australia contracted players in mid-2011, Watson’s role changed as he became vice-captain under Michael Clarke, bowling more frequently but also losing the thread of his batting. The increased workload with the ball led to another bout of injuries, and he spent much of the next two summers sidelined from the Test team. His leadership axis with Clarke proved unworkable, and their differences were to spiral into the “Homeworkgate” fiasco that enveloped the team on their tour of India in March of 2013.
Suspended from the XI to play in Mohali, Watson flew home to be with his wife Lee for the birth of their first son, and made it patently clear he did not agree with the direction of the team under Clarke and the coach Mickey Arthur. Bizarrely he would return to lead the side in the final Test of the series as Clarke was himself injured, but upon returning to Australia the vice-captaincy was handed to Brad Haddin. Subsequent off-field problems during the Champions Trophy in England led to the sacking of Arthur, and Watson took some satisfaction from standing up for his views of how the team should work as Darren Lehmann took over and the Ashes were returned in a 5-0 sweep at home.
However the comfort Watson now felt about the team set-up did not translate into the strong performances expected of him, and his run-making would go into an irretrievable downturn following his fourth and final Test century against England in Perth in December 2013. The selectors persisted with Watson, largely due to his bowling, but by the time of this year’s Ashes tour it was clear he was struggling to find his way.
Pairs of starts, lbw dismissals and unsuccessful DRS referrals in Cardiff provided a tragicomic last glimpse of Watson at the Test match batting crease, though it was his indifferent bowling that ultimately caused the selectors to lose patience at last. He had plenty of time to think over his career while running drinks in the four Tests that followed, and has now decided to concentrate on ODIs and T20 matches – the two formats where Watson has rather more effectively fulfilled his potential.
“There’s a lot that I’m proud of,” Watson said. “The thing I’m most proud of is I’ve given everything I possibly can to get the best out of myself. I haven’t achieved certainly all the things I dreamed of achieving in Test cricket – average 50 with the bat and in the 20s with the ball. That’s obviously the dream as an all-rounder to achieve and obviously I didn’t get anywhere near that, but I do know I gave it everything I possibly can to be able to get the best out of myself. That’s what I’m most proud of.” (Courtesy Cricinfo)