“The difference between stupidity and genius,” explained Albert Einstein, “is that genius has its limits.” As Shane Watson takes leave of international cricket his career will serve to offer a fine body of empirical evidence, testing as he did his fragile body and an erring mind, to that hypothesis. The blond and burly all-rounder was marked for greatness from the moment he shone through the ranks, but his quest for it never really saw the light of day.
Watson, not 35 till June this year, has decided to call time on his international career after the ongoing World T20. The famed Aussie will obviously continue playing professional cricket across the world. The lure of an Indian Premier League or his homemade equivalent, the Big Bash League, are too pronounced for Watson to walk away from the game just yet. But he is done representing Australia in all three forms of the game, and greatness will elude him forever.
3731 runs at 35.19 and 75 wickets at 33.68 – Watson will cringe with disappointment every time he comes across those returns from his intermittent foray to the Test match arena. As he laid claim to a place in an Australian team that was in transition from Steve Waugh to Ricky Ponting, experts believed Watson could captivate the world on the strength of his obvious talents.
Steve Waugh believed that Australia may have even found an all-rounder in the class of Keith Miller when Watson was first selected to the national team in 2002. The Queenslander could not force his way into the Test team but became a regular in the ODI format until a sudden burst of stress fractures sidelined him from the 2003 ODI World Cup.
Ironically, it was that back injury which finally enabled Watson to hone his batting skills, eventually leading to his Test debut in 2005. But Watson’s talents were also beginning to turn into a curse for the young man. The Aussie thinktank was clearly at a loss dealing with the riches offered by Watson.
The fact that Watson played in every batting position imaginable, as a bowler, a batsman and as an all-rounder, points to the challenges of dealing with a talent like him. It is fair to say that Watson’s career was blighted as much by injury as it was by poor management.
Unable to find favour within the setup, Watson sought acclaim elsewhere. His nude calendar shots and an autobiography at 30 can be explained away as an expression of a man seeking to make the most of his mane and fame.
The verbal image of a ghost-stricken Watson coiling into a foetal frame on the floor of Brett Lee’s room at Lumley Castle and a food poisoning incident that he feared was a heart attack kept him in the news for all the wrong reasons.
At the heart of Watson’s refusal to court his potential was an adolescent rebel that took permanent residence in his ravaged body and tormented mind. He commanded a wealth of talent but steadfastly refused to meet it, not excited by the role of greatness thrust upon his reluctant shoulders.
The final nail came in the form of the ‘homework gate’ that rocked the Australian team on the 2013 India tour. Watson found it hard to digest being “a cancer to the team,” as Michael Clarke termed him, even as Mickey Arthur failed to elicit a response to his imposition from four players including Watson.
A steady stream of injuries and continual discord with the team management rendered Watson joyless in the Baggy Green, leading to his eventual departure as an unfulfilled cricketer.
Watson was in his elements as he signed off with a few good performances these past few weeks – scores of 12, 21, 44* 18* spoke of a man determined to make his presence felt. The conditions in India suited his bowling too and his returns of 2-23 against and 2-31 over Bangladesh helped the cause of his team.
Unlike the Test arena, Watson made a deeper impression on the limited overs format. As a World Cup-winning team member twice over and a Man of the Tournament in the 2012 WT20, he left lasting impressions. In ODIs, his collection of 5757 runs at 40.54 with a healthy strike rate of 90.44 and 168 wickets bear testimony to his influence.
The fact that he was such an imposing performer in the limited overs format despite all the drama that surrounded his career is a tribute to his innate ability. The murderous blows he dealt England (161*) in the lead up to the 2011 World Cup and a world record 185* laced with 15 sixes (one that stood till 2013) a couple of weeks after the event, showcased Watson’s enormous reservoir of skills.
He drew sparsely from the well though and that is why we will always remain wondering what may have been if only Watson found the will and means to harvest his potential. In the end a T20 World Cup remained an elusive prize for Watson, but he has collected enough memories to carry him through.