In the wake of Australia’s 347 run defeat in the second Test at Lords the post mortems discussing and dissecting Australian cricket have been plenty, with defeat the nadir for a side that has seen its gradual decline move into one of free fall.
Seemingly no area of Australian cricket safe with Cricket Australia in particular being the target for much ire but in terms of individual players, with those to emerge so far with any credit whatsoever being few and far between, there is one player especially, Shane Watson, who has borne the brunt of criticism.
The peerless Gideon Haigh in The Times last weekend was particularly withering, opining that the very thought of Watson as a Test cricketer was one that had failed. Watson is clearly a divisive figure, a member of the ‘homework four’ in India earlier this year and someone who subsequently resigned the vice-captaincy amidst reports of a breakdown in his relationship with his captain Michael Clarke.
Watson appears a strong personality; prone to a change of mind as evidenced his initial reluctance, and now desire to bowl, whilst he agitated (successfully so) to be restored to the top of the order. Character analysis (assassinations?) aside it is the question of his talent, or lack of fulfilment of it, that the questions (as Haigh so perceptively did) should be asked of.
It is now eight years since Watson made his Test debut back in 2005. During that time he has featured in 43 Tests. His record is one that does not suggest anything other than an ordinary return on the talent that he – and many others – believe he possesses. In 79 innings Watson has made just 2,689 runs at an average of 34.92. He has passed 50 17 times yet tellingly has only passed 100 on two occasions (the last of which was made 43 innings ago).
The chart below breaks down his innings by innings total in Test matches:
Of great concern to Watson and Australia is not only the fact that his ability to convert 50’s to 100’s is poor but he appears to have lost the ability to push on past 50 to even close to a century with just three scores of 60 or more since his last Test century.
His technical flaws which have resulted in a stream of recent LBW decisions (and eight in the past ten Ashes innings) are well known and it is clear that he has a fundamental flaw in being able to construct an innings of any note on a consistent basis. His innings in Australia’s second innings at Lords was a microcosm of this: a string of fluent, well timed boundaries promised much but gave way to another score of 30 odd that laid little or no foundation for those to come.
So, how does this stalled progression appear when we take a look at both his cumulative run total and average?
We can see that there was a definite increase in his total following his eighth match (thirteen innings) through to the two-thirds mark of his Test career (29 matches, 43 innings) which saw him having notched 2011 runs.
His final 14 matches and 27 innings have only yielded 678 runs at an average of 25.11, a decline that has seen his Test average diminish over this same period:
Watson’s average peaked in his 26th Test match at 42.11, the result of a steady increase over the previous half dozen or so Tests after a very up and down start to his career over the first 15 or so Tests. Since then his average has taken the appearance of a depressed period in the stock market, with barely a glimmer of hope that it will nudge past 40 again having fallen below 35 after Lords.
Watson has moved around the order but it is as an opening batsman that he believes is his best position is. Since 2009 when Watson first opened the innings he has had 50 innings in 27 matches. How does he compare to other openers then? Firstly, in total runs:
Watson not featured as much as the likes of those who occupy the top four spots but there is a far bigger weighting of runs at the top end, particularly from Alastair Cook (whose runs come from 101 innings).
If we now take a look at the top ten averages:
We can see that Chris Gayle and Cook average in excess of 50, whilst the top five (down to Graeme Smith) are all above 45, considered ‘par’ for a top batsman in the modern game. Watson, despite as an opening batsman having a higher average than his overall one, remains below this figure.
A key component of Watson’s lower average in comparison to those at the top of both tables is his inability to convert scores into centuries. We know that Watson has just two Test centuries, but he has passed 50 on 17 occasions, meaning that despite passing 50 around 32% of the time he converts 50’s into 100’s at a rate of a shade over 11%, well below of the other opening batsmen during this time:
This recent blog from The Cricket Geek identified what is a key component of this, stating that we know Watson gets out LBW a lot but when he gets out LBW is interesting:
I compared Watson with all top 7 batsmen in the last 3 years on their likelihood to get out lbw. Most of us have heard that Watson gets out lbw more than anyone in history except Junior Murray (min 30 matches), but when he gets out is particularly interesting.
I looked at the relative frequency of dismissal by lbw in innings under 30 and in innings 30+. I compared it to other batsmen in the last 3 years. (I picked the last 3 years to include the DRS factor) Here are the numbers:
Watson is 63% more likely to get out lbw at the start of his innings than other batsmen, but he is 110% more likely than them to get out later on. It is a technical issue, not a form issue. Going away and playing some lower quality bowlers will not fix it. He needs to work on where to put his feet and how to play the different deliveries that are getting him out.
As an opening batsman you expect dismissals early in an innings against a new ball and a quality attack before you are really set in an innings. But for Watson this is not the overriding issue, the fault is that when other batsmen overcome the usual fallibility at the start of an innings Watson’s problems remain.
This is clearly holding Watson back in terms of being able to compile the sort of big innings that the likes of Cook or Smith are capable of producing once set. If Watson cannot resolve this problem then the numbers indicate that he will remain at best an average, but by no means very good or even great opener, and likely will never be.
Is that enough for this Australian side?