As an international cricketer, Shane Watson was notorious for getting confrontational if the opposition tried to get under his skin. On Tuesday night, when Ishant Sharma tried to rile him up, Watson responded with a nonchalant smile. This was the smile of a man who has seen it all and has come out wiser for the experience. Chennai Super Kings (CSK) are called Dady's Army for having several players in the 35+ age bracket. While age makes them slow movers on the field, the combined experience of this side lends them an unmistakable serenity.
There were question marks over Watson's selection and fitness in last year's auction. This year, no one had any doubts over his selection. CSK have so much faith in Watson that they are keeping out in-form South African captain Faf du Plessis and playing Watson at the top.
Watson was in good form coming into the IPL this year. He was the top run-getter in the recently-concluded Pakistan Super League (PSL) where he played many match-winning knocks for his team. Earlier that year, he had scored a hundred at the Big Bash as well.
Against Delhi Capitals at Feroz Shah Kotla, Watson justified this faith once again with a decisive 44 off 26 balls. He had scored a ten-ball duck in the last game but looked unfazed against the Delhi attack and found his timing right against both spinners and seamers.
Axar Patel gave him width in the second over of the innings, and Watson was off with two boundaries on the first three balls of that over. The thing with Watson is, he may get out cheaply at times, but when he gets a start, he generally sets up the game for his team.
There were some uncomfortable moments against Ishant Sharma who dug it short and into Watson's body. But for anyone who has followed Watson's career, extra pace on the ball generally serves to wake up the batting beast inside him.
Kagiso Rabada tried to replicate Ishant and in the fourth over got one to rise uncomfortably and hit Watson on the hand. Watson responded by collecting a four and a six off the next two deliveries. The first one with a well-timed flick and the second off a top-edged pull shot.
The Delhi bowlers were guilty of pitching it too shot to Watson. On a pitch where one needed the in-between length, the way Deepak Chahar did earlier in the evening, the Delhi pacers got a bit carried away and tried to hustle the Chennai batsmen. That allowed Suresh Raina and Watson to collect some easy runs, and the short boundaries at the Kotla only helped their cause.
When Amit Mishra came into the attack at the end of the Powerplay, one knew this was the last throw of the dice from Shreyas Iyer to get some control back into the game. CSK had collected 58 in the first six overs and were threatening to run away with the game.
Watson was showing his great value to the side now. He was already set against the pace bowlers and was ready to tear apart the threat of spinners on a pitch that was giving them some assistance. He greeted Amit Mishra by charging down the track off the second ball of his over and played a beautiful lofted shot straight back over the bowlers head.
If the first six had elegance and class written all over, the second six in the same over had Watson's brute force on display. Watson played the classic one-two by waiting for Mishra to pitch it short after charging him earlier in the over. When Mishra erred in length only slightly, Watson was quick to rock back and muscle it over mid-wicket for another six.
Watson playing the pull shot against the spinners is a sight to behold. His massive upper body strength and his clean swing from that steady, slightly crouched base have taken the toll on many a spinner in the past.
Amit Mishra had the last laugh in the over though when he threw it wide of off stump to drag Watson out and let wicket-keeper Rishabh Pant effect an easy stumping.
Watson couldn't finish the game as he did for his team in last year's final, but that rapid start he provided brought down the required run rate so much that the rest of his side could just canter along. If Watson continues this form for the rest of the season, CSK can safely reserve a playoff berth for themselves. The only concern could be his fitness which one is sure is well looked after in the Chennai camp.