Sport Cricket Watson, master of mediocrity, does it again
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Watson, master of mediocrity, does it again

Shane Watson is trapped lbw for 52.
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Australia v India, third Test, MCG, stumps day one. Australia 5/259 (Smith 72 not out, Rogers 57, Watson 52. Shami 2-55, Yadev 2-69).

On a Boxing Day in which honours were even, it was Shane Watson – who else? – who best epitomised the ambiguous nature of the contest.

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Watson raised his first Test fifty of 2014 just after lunch at the MCG, his highest score since making an unbeaten 83 against England in the Boxing Day Test of 2013.

However, just when you thought he was set, he was out plumb lbw for 52, attempting to sweep Ravi Ashwin.

Watson flourishes ...
Watson flourishes …

It was the archetypal Watson innings.

It gave fans proof that he was still capable of scoring runs when it mattered, while simultaneously, the detractors were lining up to say ‘See, I told you so’.

Like most Shane Watson debates, both sides are correct to a degree.

One constant in the Watson career is his uncanny ability to find a score when the pressure is beginning to mount. With Chris Rogers making twin 55s in Brisbane, scrutiny had switched toward Watson and Haddin.

But while there are no clear alternatives to Haddin beating down the door, Watson now has twin threats in the form of young allrounder Mitchell Marsh, and Australia’s latest Test debutant, Joe Burns, breathing down his neck.

Coming off a strong domestic season, as soon as Burns was confirmed as the recipient of Baggy Green no. 441, the debate on Watson became one of whether he was good enough to hold on to first drop, or whether he should drop down the order to no. 6, the traditional allrounder’s spot.

Shane Watson
… and falls.

And then, if Burns does well in Melbourne, and Marsh is passed fit for the Sydney Test in the New Year, what becomes of Watson?

Once David Warner nicked the twelfth ball of the day, Watson had his chance to prove the doubters wrong.

He began well enough, and went at close enough to a run-a-ball initially. Three fours in four balls off Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami put him into the thirties, and that pushed your correspondent toward the stats.

In 102 Test knocks, this was just Watson’s 46th time beyond 31. Of those 46, he has failed to reach 50 on 19 occasions. Further evidence of his inability to go on with starts.

Then there are Watson’s nerves around milestones. Sure enough, ten of these 46 innings fall between 46 and 54, Look further up the list, and four 90s and a 103 ring a bell.

So after he had already been dropped nine minutes before lunch, it was hardly surprising when Watson fell 14 minutes shy of drinks in the second session.

Steven Smith
While Steven Smith just flourishes. Photos: Getty

Worse still, it came just six balls after Rogers had edged Shami through to MS Dhoni.

For the Watson detractors, this innings had the full set: out lbw, shortly after reaching a milestone, just before a break in play, and immediately after a useful partnership had been broken, leaving two new batsmen to start again.

The cherry on top was that he had made another Test fifty after a lean trot, almost certainly extending his tenure for the immediate future. It was Watson at his very typical, very annoying, mercurial best.

The same cannot be said of Steven Smith.

After two centuries and a fifty in Adelaide and Brisbane, yet another unbeaten fifty took the new skipper past 1000 runs for the calendar year, putting him in such company as Kumar Sangakkara, Younis Khan, swashbuckling New Zealand counterpart Brendon McCullum, and teammate David Warner.

You certainly could not rule out a third century in three Tests, such is this current vein of form he is in.

The length of the Smith-Haddin partnership will be vital for the success or otherwise of both teams when play resumes on day two.

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