Shane Watson was one of the biggest superstars of the T20 era. In the Indian Premier League (IPL), which he terms “the best T20 tournament in the world,” his prowess with bat and ball helped Rajasthan Royals and Chennai Super Kings win titles. One of the greatest all-rounders to have played all three formats, the retired Australian is elated to be still playing – albeit alongside other retired cricketers at the Legends League Cricket Masters in Doha.
Sportstar caught up with Watson, now 41, on the sidelines of the tournament, where he led World Giants to a runner-up finish.
How has your experience been playing in the Legends League Cricket Masters (LLCM) and what were you looking forward to most before signing up?
It’s great to have the opportunity to be able to do this. To reconnect with so many of my mates and also people I played against in a more relaxed environment, compared to playing for your country. It gives you a reason to stay fit as well and the longer these Legends Leagues are on, we’ll get fitter and fitter. For me, playing cricket is what I know better than anything – being in the middle and being able to bat. I am not bowling at the moment because my body is not allowing me. I didn’t know how much I would miss it until I got back to playing. I love the opportunity to test my skill again because when I retired, I thought that would be the last game of cricket that I played.
Australia has been led by three different captains in ODIs since Aaron Finch’s retirement. Do you think the Australian one-day captaincy job will be rotational going forward?
For Pat Cummins, to be able to play every game for Australia is impossible. There is so much big cricket on for the Australian team over the next six months. But when Pat’s fit and playing, he is a great leader. He is such a calm influence on the cricket field. To have Steve Smith and David Warner’s voices around will help guide him. The captaincy is going to change a little bit here and there when you’ve got a fast-bowling captain and you have to manage the amount of cricket he plays.
Will Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc choose to prioritise a single format at some point looking at the way Australia’s pace bowling reserves are constantly growing?
These guys have got such great skill across formats. When they are at their best, they are as good as any bowler in the world. I wouldn’t want them to specialise in just one format of the game, for example in Test cricket. The management will mainly be around if there is a World Cup year, one-day or T20, then the priority is going to be to make sure they are fit and firing for those big tournaments. If there is an Ashes or a big Test series, then they need to make sure they manage that as well. I always want to watch the best cricketers playing in all formats when they are available.
Considering Australia’s depth and the all-rounders it has, do you see a scenario where Cummins won’t be picked for every single game at the ODI World Cup in India later this year?
If Pat’s bowling incredibly well, then he is one of the first to be picked. Australia have got riches of talent and depth because of their all-rounders. To be able to have Marcus Stoinis, who is a match-winner with the bat, batting at No. 8, that is very low. He can bat at No. 4 to 6 in any international team in the world. It’s a great problem to have. But when you have got such depth in the team, sometimes you can not be fully committed because when you have got Marcus Stoinis batting at No. 8, you feel even if I get out it doesn’t matter. So, at times, you can collapse. That’s a big challenge, like it was with the Australian team in the 2000s when they were so dominant and had such a long batting lineup.
With David Warner appointed Delhi Capitals skipper, do you think captaincy will help him regain form in white-ball cricket?
There is no doubt that Dave being the leader will give him that extra bit of inspiration to stand up for his team and dominate like he has. Dave has always performed incredibly well in the IPL. There might have been three or four games with Sunrisers Hyderabad when he didn’t score runs and he got dropped, which was just madness. Last season he batted incredibly well for Delhi. He is a great leader. Tactically, he is very good. He is a great man manager, so he is going to do a brilliant job for Delhi Capitals.
How do you see Warner’s future in Test cricket, especially now that Travis Head and Usman Khawaja have done well opening the batting?
It’s an interesting time for David Warner in Test cricket. He scored an incredible hundred at the MCG on Boxing Day, that was an amazing double-hundred. It is entirely up to him if he wants to continue to push his case in Test cricket and get back to his consistent best. He deserves the right to be able to make his own decisions. Obviously, Travis Head has done a brilliant job opening the batting in Indian conditions, where the ball is not swinging and seaming that much. Travis Head does take the game on and play his shots but it remains to be seen if can do that in a Test match in Australia, England or South Africa. I personally think it’s a bit too high risk, the way he bats while opening. But what he has done in the last couple of years, batting in the middle-order, has been incredible. But I’ll be surprised if he continues to open apart from when Australia plays in the subcontinent.
Is the Ashes still bigger for Australia than the WTC final and how do you think the Australians will tackle a transformed English Test team?
The World Test Championship final is a huge game but there is no question – the Ashes is the holy grail. To be able to win an Ashes series away is so hard to do. The Aussies will be firing and ready to go and try and take the English down. But England is playing incredible cricket. There is something happening every single ball. It will be interesting how they come up against our bowling attack in particular. Whether it’s the first string or the second string, the Australian bowling attack is incredibly good.
The IPL is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year. How do you look back at that first season with Rajasthan Royals under Shane Warne?
It’s amazing to think it’s been 15 years. It was a highlight of my career and my life to be a part of Rajasthan Royals in the first year of IPL with Shane Warne. He did such an incredible job as a leader, player and a really good friend. He looked after me and backed me and that was the catalyst to be able to take my game to another level. That thrust me into international cricket. Now that Shane Warne is not here with us any more, that makes that first year of IPL more special. I feel very lucky to have been a part of that and it was a very special time in my life. I know how big an achievement that was for him as a player and leader.
We know what the IPL has done for budding domestic talent in India. But what does it mean for an established foreign player to be playing in the league?
For an international player, outside of playing well for your country, you judge yourself on whether you are able to perform well at the IPL. The IPL is the best T20 tournament in the world. You are challenging yourself against the best cricketers in the world. If you are able to perform well in that tournament, that’s a great gauge on where your game’s at. There are no easy games because you are playing against the best bowlers and bowling to the best batters. India is the epicentre of world cricket, so if you are able to do well there, you can do well anywhere. The support you get for playing for an Indian franchise is something you don’t get anywhere else.
Will Chennai Super Kings be able to turn its fortunes around this season and how was your journey with the team?
CSK will definitely bounce back. They always do. They have got too many great players and are led so incredibly well by M. S. Dhoni and Stephen Fleming. They will absolutely turn it around, there is no doubt in my mind, knowing how they work. Right at the back end of my career, to be able to play with CSK and for us to perform as a team in two of the three years was great. The CSK fans, for sure, are something very special.
For how much longer do you see Dhoni playing in the IPL?
He can keep playing for as long as he wants. He is still very fit and it looks like he has put in more work in the lead-up to this tournament. He has a big point to prove that you can play and lead incredibly well as a 42-year-old. He’s the man.
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