Shane Watson proved that a successful T20 batting masterpiece can have a soft intro that leads to a crescendo, a kind of abbreviated version of the Test style but with the same flow.
In the long and rich history of cricket, T20 batting is a fledgling art. Still, it's an art that is much studied and much debated over. There is consensus over what kind of batting methods succeed in Tests. You need to have patience, a sound technique, and the ability to put away the bad balls to achieve consistent success as a batsman in the longer form of the game.
In T20 where you only get 120 chances over an innings as a batting unit, some believe that an all-out aggressive approach works the best. Every delivery is a scarce resource in this format and not making full use of it comes at a sizeable opportunity cost. This academic approach doesn't have it's grounding in classical batsmanship that talks about getting your eye in as a batsman before attempting to get adventurous.
Shane Watson exemplifies this classical method as a top order batsman in T20 cricket. He proves that a successful T20 batting masterpiece can have a soft intro leading to a crescendo, a kind of abbreviated version of the Test style but with the same flow.
At Chepauk on Tuesday night, Watson walked in with his team chasing 176 to win. CSK have faltered a few times this season with their top order batting. MS Dhoni, as he often does, was openly critical of the failures of his team's top three. After the loss in their previous game, Dhoni remarked that it's possible for the top three batsmen of his team to be finishers. The leader had thrown the challenge, who will rise to it?
Before this game, there were question marks over Watson's place in the side. His injuries don't allow him to contribute with the ball, and CSK had other capable batsmen like Sam Billings who can replace him. When Watson started by playing out a maiden in Bhuvneshwar Kumar's first over, one would see it as a mark of nerves. But those who had seen Watson's hundred in last year's final, where he started with a maiden against the same bowler, would know that it could be a sign that Watson is setting himself up for a big one.
Spin was introduced early in the attack in the form of Shakib Al Hasan to exploit Watson's perceived weakness against left-arm spin. But Shakib was playing a game after a long time, and his bowling doesn't have the same zip it once had. Watson swept the first ball of Shakib's spell for four to get his innings going. When Shakib pitched short in his second over, he was pulled for six over square leg. In between Watson had also collected a six and a four off a Khaleel Ahmed over.
With Raina and Watson looking comfortable in the middle, one knew Rashid Khan's spell would now decide the outcome of the game. In the last match between these two teams, Raina was caught in front against a leg break from Rashid. This time he played for the leg break and beaten all ends up by googly, and Jonny Bairstow completed the stumping.
You could see Rashid Khan was feeling it. He was animated in his celebrations and also had confrontations with Shane Watson a few times. Watson used to be a temperamental young man at international cricket, but the new Watson is much more sedate. He usually laughs off such confrontations these days. But Tuesday's Watson was too tuned in to ignore Rashid. He gave back in kind with his words and with his intense stares. But the match condition demanded that he doesn't do anything rash at least inside the first ten overs.
Watson scored six runs off five balls in Rashid's first spell of two overs. More important than the runs was the fact that Watson was still in the middle. For CSK, if a natural stroke-maker of Watson's ability stays there till the end, 176 was never going to be enough.
Rashid's second spell was a last throw of the dice by Hyderabad. Watson and Rayudu had already put on 29 runs together and didn't look in any trouble against any of the other bowlers. Some dew had also settled on the pitch causing the ball to skid on rather than grip the surface. Watson, who had already crossed his fifty, was seeing the ball well. The stage was set for some payback.
Watson went after Rashid Khan in his second spell. The first ball he faced was dismissed for a four with a powerful sweep shot. The next ball was an attempted yorker, but somehow Watson managed to get to it on the full and got under it enough to hit it several rows back into the stands. Rashid Khan was in unfamiliar territory. Not many batsmen single him out for this kind of severe punishment. But a Watson on song is different from most batsmen. He is a powerful stroke maker and incredibly adept at picking the length early.
With a clear upper hand in this mini battle, it was Watson's turn to confront Rashid with a stare. No words, no gestures, just a death stare. It was the response of a war-hardened warrior who had fought many more battles than this talented, over-eager young trooper who was now getting schooled on how to show some respect. The very next ball after hitting a mammoth six, Watson came well forward and played a perfect front foot defence just to prove the same point. Watson was on an attacking streak, but he wasn't going to get reckless in the heat of the battle. There was a more critical campaign that he needed to see through.
In Rashid's next over, Watson chose the straight boundary for his next big hit as if to prove his range. When Rashid went flatter and shorter later in the over, Watson rocked back in his trademark slightly crouched stance and pulled him for a four. The second round of Watson vs Rashid ended with the scoreline of 8 balls 24 runs with two sixes and two fours. A comprehensive win for the big-hitting Australian.
Watson went on to take CSK on the verge of victory that was later sealed by Kedar Jadhav in the last over to take CSK back to the top of the points table. With 16 points, CSK are almost guaranteed of a place in the playoff. But more than the points, the way the top order finally turned up in the competition would have a bearing on how the rest of the season plays out for the defending champions.
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