Published On: Sat, Apr 21st, 2018

Watson, the quiet marauder

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On Thursday Chris Gayle, in the same breath, both demanded and commanded respect after becoming the first centurion in IPL 2018. A day later, Shane Watson, another middle-aged cricketer, reminded us that experience remains a vital asset in a format made for the young, becoming the first player in the tournament’s history to score a ton for and against a team he represents.

Otherwise Gayle and Watson are chalk and cheese. Gayle calculates his assault, runs only when pushed to. Watson is a contrast: a busybody, he will muscle a few big hits, but otherwise uses his powerful wrists and precise placements to gain momentum.

With Gayle bowlers always have this nagging fear of being bludgeoned. Watson meanwhile stays in his pen without barking too much. And yet he can bite. A big man, Watson, like Gayle, hits the ball hard. Unlike Gayle, who likes to stay quiet as far as possible in the first half of the innings, Watson likes to clear the infield and stay deep in the crease to cut and glide the ball to the ropes.

In their previous three matches, Super Kings had chased. They had taken the chase to the virtually the last ball in all those three games. Dwayne Bravo, Sam Billings and MS Dhoni had put Super Kings in a winning position. The top order most often provided decent starts, but nothing like today.

He was given a reprieve in the very first over by Rahul Tripathi, who dropped a simple catch at first slip. Watson never looked back. Unlike the previous matches, there was a conscious change of plan in the way Watson attacked today – he did not slog, but took advantage of the ample loose balls dished out by Royals’ bowlers in the first half of the innings. Barring the death overs, where he was largely kept off strike by Dwayne Bravo, Watson did not slow down at any stage during the innings.

Another significant difference between Watson and Gayle was the dot balls. Today Watson played only 13 dots out of the 57 deliveries he face as opposed to Gayle’s 21 out of 63 on Thursday. Obviously, there are few batsmen who come close to Gayle in taking rapid strides to make up for the initial lull. But if Gayle is brute force, Watson carves out strokes with both power and subtlety.

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Rajasthan Royals bowler Ben Laughlin on what went wrong for his side against Chennai Super Kings in Pune, and Shane Watson’s innings

Overall, in terms of Smart Runs – part of ESPNcricinfo’s new metric to make sense of numbers in the shortest format – Watson’s runs today were worth 31 more than his actual score. While Watson’s 106 came off 57 deliveries at a strike rate of 185.96, the other Super Kings’ batsmen scored at strike rate of 143.

Watson’s desire to excel has always been there. Fitness issues, perhaps, did not allow him to become someone like a Jacques Kallis. But his commitment to the task has always been unwavering. He was modest enough to admit he was lucky to play in the IPL again and bat at his “favourite” position – as opener. He said he had been “dreaming of days” like Friday over the last couple of years.

He also acknowledged the role of good form coming into this IPL; Watson was the fifth-highest run-getter in the Pakistan Super League [PSL] season that finished late last month. “This is as good as I have batted over the last three or four months, from the Big Bash [League in Australia], the PSL and now here,” Watson said after the game. “The previous couple of years, I certainly wasn’t batting well for a few different reasons I was working on. But I just was not at my absolute best at Royal Challenger Bangalore. The pleasing thing is to be able to score runs. Of course a hundred is a real bonus.”

On Friday, the Pune ground was awash with No. 7 yellow jerseys, homage to Super Kings’ captain MS Dhoni. Two days ago Mohali was full of Gayle fans. Watson, despite playing an innings like Friday’s on several occasions, has never been known for the miracles and spectacle that the likes of Dhoni and Gayle have built their legends on. Still, Watson is strong enough to match them on field, with less show, in his own style.



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