'Adaptable' Watson might not open, says Smith

Steven Smith called Shane Watson adaptable and said he has seen him bat well in a number of positions, indicating that Australia are open to the idea of changing their opening combination © Getty Images

At around 3.15pm, with Australia’s pre-match press conference over, Shane Watson called his team-mates into a huddle. Not the kind they have with their arms around each other just before going out to field. A more relaxed one, just to have a relaxed conversation with mates. Steven Smith and Darren Lehmann already knew. Perhaps, a few of the players close to him knew, too. Now, he told the rest that this World T20 was going to be his last international tournament for Australia, that he was retiring from all international and first-class cricket. Smith spoke after that. Then, Lehmann did. And then, strength and conditioning coach Damian Mednis seemed to suggest, “Let’s not get too soppy. Watto’s still around. Let’s go train.”

There were handshakes after that. There were pats on the back. Glenn Maxwell put his arm around Watson, patted him on his head and then let him go. They know there is not much of Watson left. Two games if they don’t play well. Three or four if they hit their stride. An absolute fairytale ending would be to win all four matches. For that, they will rely on the best of Watson. Not just on the field, but also tactically, because he has the most experience of both the PSL and IPL. Their next two opponents are Pakistan and India.

“We had a team meeting yesterday,” Steven Smith said. “He had a fair bit of intel, insights about some of their players. It was nice to hear his thoughts. We certainly listened, and they are going to be a tough opponent, we have to be at our best if we have to beat them tomorrow.”

Watson as a player holds a big key, with his cutters on the slow pitches, and his batting. He has the experience of batting both in the top and middle orders in the IPL. So far, Australia have used him at the top, presumably to get a left-right combination going with Usman Khawaja, who simply can’t be ignored. That has pushed David Warner down to the middle order. The experiment hasn’t really worked, with Warner scoring 6 off 11 and 17 off 9 in the two matches. It is not set in stone now that Watson opens and Warner bats in the middle.

“It’s not too late,” Smith said. “I think it could change. I think it depends on the kind of wickets, what we think at the time is going to be best against certain attacks and it might change in this game, it might change against India as well, so guys are pretty flexible. Everyone, Davey has played quite well in the middle, but we know how destructive he is at the top as well. You’ve got Aaron Finch as well who is sitting in the wings and he’s very destructive at the top.

“Having said that, the two starts we’ve had have been good. Hasn’t been in the first game, it wasn’t the openers’ fault that we lost that match. It was our middle order. And our middle order again didn’t do the job to polish off the performance the other night. We’ve got a few options, it’s just about summing up what we think is best for that certain day, those conditions and against that opposition.”

Smith said it helps that Watson is adaptable. “I think Watto can [adapt], I think he’s got a bit of extra power,” Smith said. “I’ve seen him bat in one-day cricket at No. 5 and No. 6, he’s batted in the middle order in IPL over here as well, and he’s done quite well. He certainly can. Usman, I think, is suited to the top of the order. He plays just good cricket shots and scores at a pretty good rate without taking many risks.

“It depends what we want on that given day. If we want a bit of extra power and get off to an absolute flyer, you’ve got options of Finch and Warner and Watson, and if you want just good cricket strokeplay and then leave it for the middle overs and the back end, I think Usman is suited to bat for a longer period.”

Australia certainly have the options with the bat, but they haven’t yet been able to nail them. It has left them needing practically four wins out of four if they are to win a maiden World T20. How they bat against spin and slow bowling will determine how they go. Watson has won 50-over World Cups, he has been the Man of the Match in a Champions Trophy final win, he has been part of dominating Test sides, but to get this final missing piece before he goes, he will have a big contribution to make with bat, ball and tactics on these slow pitches.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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