Shane Watson, out leg before wicket. It’s a refrain that has been heard 29 times in his 59 Tests, frequently after a slight break to allow the decision review system to confirm the obvious.
Watto is out. We’ve said it so many times over the years, often as he failed yet again to convert a half-century into a big score. He’s accumulated 24 half-centuries and a mere four tons. Sadly for Watson, four Test centuries is too few for Cricinfo even to bother counting the accomplishment in its league table of Australian century-makers. It’s less than 10 per cent of Ricky Ponting’s record 41.
But now Watto is out of the team, many years after Australians stopped wondering whether he was somehow sacrosanct, and assumed he had footage of the selectors doing nuddy runs around the MCG.
Traditionally, a long-serving Test all-rounder is worth two players, but when it comes to Watson, it always seemed that the selectors were satisfied that being a half-decent batsman and a half-decent bowler was enough to make him a complete cricketer.
But now Watto is out of the team entirely, and at the age of 34, it might be for good, both in the sense of being permanent and for the good of the team, which in the first day of the Second Test has not exactly felt his absence.
Watching this compilation of some of the eight times – eight! – that Watson has been out LBW in Ashes Tests, I came to recognise the expression of wincing incredulity that crosses his face whenever the ball has yet again crashed into his legs instead of the bat. Why hasn’t the universe been kinder, Watto is wondering. Why haven’t more of my dreams come to pass? How can I be out like that, again?
Sport, and life, are like that. Some of us just always seem to get there, while others just always seem to miss out. Why was Kevin Rudd and not Kim Beazley the one who finally led Labor to victory? Or, as Simon Crean would ask (but only Simon Crean), why not him?
Some people are just unlucky. Others are not good enough, of course – but when it comes to Shane Watson, we’ll undoubtedly never know which he was.
Watto has long been a figure of derision in a country that’s used to winning, and winning big, and if that means winning ugly, then that’s okay. But there are other cricketing nations who might have treasured Shane Watson as a prodigy. Okay, so I’m probably not talking about nations with full Test status, but nevertheless, it’s conceivable.
And even for Australia, there are other times, during the period of West Indian domination, for instance, when he might have seemed a stalwart.
Shane Watson’s experience in the Australian Test team is not unlike my own recollection of playing the sport. There were days as a batsman when it seemed I could do no wrong, when the ball just flew to the boundary, as it often did from my most reliable scoring shot, the accidental edge. They were precious, joyful days, and their rarity made them all the more special.
Sure, my all-time high score was 16, while his is 176, but we are similar in that there weren’t many days that good. Looking at his career batting graph, that score in the drawn fifth Test in 2013 towers above the rest of his performances like the gulf between his potential and the reality of his career.
And at least he got to play, and play for many years. He was much more fortunate than poor old Scott Muller, who played a mere two Tests in which he dismissed seven recognised batsmen, but is now remembered only for the “can’t bowl, can’t throw” scandal.
Darren Lehmann says Watson’s career is not yet over. But in Lehmann’s words, one can detect the faint praise that has so often accompanied his career. “He’s been an experienced player for us,” Lehmann said. He certainly has – but arguably not a great one, sadly.
“Form is going to dictate what Shane does,” Lehmann went on to say. Which is something of a first, in recent years, admittedly. But while there’s the prospect of injury to better players, there’s surely hope.
Steve Waugh is more sceptical, saying there’s probably no way back now, given Watto’s age. If he’s right, we’ll never see Shane Watson’s legs before a Test wicket again.
But if we know Watto, and we do, we can be certain of one thing. Somewhere over there in England, he’s asking for this decision to be reviewed.