Promise not fulfilled!

This (Shane Watson) was a cricketer who had the talent to score more than the four hundreds he managed in 59 Tests, average more than the 35.19 he did, and aggregate much more than the 3731 runs the record will now forever state he made. With the ball, Watson took 75 wickets at 33.68 — hardly enough for him to be considered a serious all-rounder.

Shane Watson has packed his Test gear for good.   -  REUTERS

It is telling that in Shane Watson’s retirement from Test cricket, the public discourse has been more about the player he wasn’t and less about the one he was. It encapsulates the general feeling of disappointment among observers — Australia supporters or not. This was a cricketer who had the talent to score more than the four hundreds he managed in 59 Tests, average more than the 35.19 he did, and aggregate much more than the 3731 runs the record will now forever state he made. With the ball, Watson took 75 wickets at 33.68 — hardly enough for him to be considered a serious all-rounder. In the end, it was his fragile body that forced him to bid goodbye as much as his form — after endless cycles of injury and rehabilitation and more injury.

Watson was a batsman characterised by enterprise and power. In full flow, the Queenslander was (and in limited-overs cricket, will continue to be) a delight to watch. His one gaping weakness, though, was against the ball coming back in — something he struggled with throughout his career. It made him a perennial lbw candidate and a batsman forever on the brink of dismissal — he was never quite ‘in.’

“He had the potential to do more with the bat — he averaged 35 when he had the talent to average 45,” Steve Waugh told The Hindu recently. “He would’ve liked to score more hundreds. His conversion rate let him down. He got a lot of good starts. Most good or great players go on to get a hundred when they get a 20. He often got out between 20 and 50. He would say that himself. Whether it was a lack of concentration or he was trying too hard to prove that he was a world-class batsman (is a matter of conjecture). He had a very good career, if you look at his statistics. For any other cricketer, I’d be happy, but for Shane Watson, if you look at his talent and strength, he probably feels he didn’t fulfil his potential. But he’s not the only person that fits into that category.”

In the Australian Test team, Watson could never really nail a spot down, which meant he batted all over. He opened the innings on 52 occasions, averaging over 40 there, but his propensity for failing to convert starts meant he never really convinced. Seven of Watson’s nine highest scores — between 89 and 176 — came between December 2009 and December 2010. They were his best seasons with the bat, a tiny island of hope in an ocean of exasperating batting.

As a bowler, he was medium-fast when he first emerged on the scene, but injury forced him to cut his pace down. He traded those extra yards in for control and accuracy, which, coupled with a fine ability to reverse-swing the ball (a skill that eluded his colleagues) made him a useful bowler. Watson could hold one end up while his fellow bowlers attacked from the other. All this kept him in the team when he was clearly failing with the bat. But it quickly became apparent that Watson’s body would not let him bowl enough to pay his way as a bowler.

“The great all-rounders of the past are big guys who are naturally strong and don’t have many injuries,” Waugh said. “That’s probably what held Shane Watson back. His body let him down a bit and he didn’t fulfil his potential. There are a lot of elements that go into being a great all-rounder, which is why there are so few of them.”

Australia has played 119 Tests since Watson’s debut, but he has featured in only 59 — less than half. “The thing I’m most proud of is I’ve given everything I possibly can to get the best out of myself,” Watson said, announcing his retirement from Tests earlier this month. “I haven’t achieved certainly all the things I dreamed of achieving in Test cricket — average 50 with the bat and in the 20s with the ball. That’s obviously the dream as an all-rounder to achieve and obviously I didn’t get anywhere near that, but I do know I gave it everything I possibly can to be able to get the best out of myself. That’s what I’m most proud of.”