Despite insisting that his decision to relinquish the vice-captaincy of Australia’s national cricket teams was voluntary, Shane Watson’s recent move is all but an admission that his international career is in serious jeopardy. For years it was injury that plagued Australia’s otherwise futile long-term search for an all-rounder in the Test arena with the Queensland product playing just 6 matches between his 2005 debut and 2008. A recent form slump however has put his playing future in question with his position quickly becoming untenable.
Watson’s dominance of Twenty20 cricket over recent years and consistent ODI all-round ability has somehow managed to guise his deceptively poor Test record. Admittedly, he averaged 65.09 with the bat in 2009 and 42.71 in what was a very challenging 2010 but if we consider those performances anomalies, Australia’s former vice-captain’s constant selection is an embarrassment. If any statistic summarizes this, it is that since 2010, Shane Watson has scored just 4 half-centuries and 3 ducks in 28 innings.
Failing to score a Test century over the last 3 years, Watson’s performances aren’t just detrimental to Australia’s chances in individual Test matches, but his desire to open, the selector’s decision to bat him in the middle order and his genuine suitability to bat in the lower-middle order are all incongruent to the team’s interests. In essence, the shoe clearly doesn’t fit, but Australian selectors are determined to keep trying despite probably knowing their efforts are futile. With Ed Cowan, Phillip Hughes and David Warner – three genuine openers – already in Australia’s Test XI, there is no place for an under-performing and over-rated, attention-seeking all-rounder who doesn’t even bowl.
Australia’s recruitment of Englishman Graeme Hick in the name of teaching Australia’s dismal batting order some patience is yet another sign that something is about to give. Despite persistent optimism from coach Mickey Arthur that his side isn’t as unaccomplished as the Australian public seems to fear, there are very few ways to put a positive spin on a 4-0 series whitewash in India. To make matters worse, Alastair Cook’s men, Australia’s Ashes opponents and the side against which they play their next 10 Test matches had won an identical tour 2-1 just months earlier.
Whilst even an attempt to address this endemic issue is a positive step, the removal of one of Australia’s more aggressive batsmen from the equation is surely the more reliable and sensible solution. With Shaun Marsh waiting in the wings, the Australian public strangely encouraging the selection of an unproven Alex Doolan, Usman Khawaja guaranteed to come of age eventually and even Callum Ferguson coming off a relatively good Sheffield Shield season, there is no shortage of legitimate replacements who have demonstrated a greater temperament over recent months.
Even if Watson’s stepping-down as Australia’s vice-captain was as voluntary as he has maintained, the Ashes in England this year may present his final chance to prove his worth in the longest format of the game. If that proves to be the case, the 31 year-old Queenslander has a lot of work to do in a short space of time.