Three matches into their season Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) are coming to terms with the harsh reality that their prized catch and make-shift skipper Shane Watson is not the cat of the walk.
Not so long ago, Watson was a tremendous star. He strode across T20 tournaments like a colossus. The number of Man of the Series and other awards that he pouched speak for his magnificent ability. He was the 2012 T20 World Cup man of the series; bagged two Indian Premier League (IPL) Man of the Tournament awards in 2008 and 2013; he was adjudged the world’s number 1 T20 player for 150 weeks, from October 2011 to January 2014; he was Cricket Australia’s player of the year across all formats twice.
These apart, he was the highest paid non-Indian player in IPL for five years.
Yet these many accolades and honours matter little to RCB and its fans. Watson simply has not been able to recreate similar magic for them, particularly this season when the depleted side needs it the most.
On the other hand, barring that over bowled to Amit Mishra, Watson’s efforts with bat and ball have been eminently forgettable. Against King’s XI Punjab (KXIP), he probably thought he would help himself to some easy runs against the pacers before the spinners came on to bowl. He opted to open the batting. But KXIP were on the ball and opened their bowling with spinner Axar Patel instead.
Watson’s dismissal in the first over set the tone for RCB’s debacle even though AB de Villiers, returning to the side after recuperating from a bad back, batted out of his skin.
If Watson disappointed with the bat by scoring just one run, his bowling was worse. He got hammered for 28 runs from just two overs. He hardly ever troubled any batsman and that must be a worrying thought.
Watson’s strength in earlier IPL and other tournaments was his remarkable consistency. It was this and his substantial contribution with bat and ball, or either, that made him one of the most sought-after players in T20 cricket.
The Australian all-rounder, who was brought to Rajasthan Royals and IPL cricket by countryman and fellow cricketer Shane Warne, made an immediate impact in his debut season in 2008. He was a powerful hitter and an extremely handy fast bowler. Watson’s fielding too was impressive; particularly his bullet throws from the deep.
He worked his way back into the Australian team after his wonderful exploits in IPL brought renewed attention to his all round prowess. He went from strength to strength in IPL and international cricket before calling it quits in 2016.
But Watson stayed involved with T20 leagues. He was icon player for Islamabad in the Pakistan Super League, a marquee player for Zouks in the Caribbean Premier League and made skipper last year of Sydney Thunder in the Big Bash. The RCB captaincy following injury to Virat Kohli this season, was a natural progression.
But the question is: Is Watson past his ‘use-by’ date?
At 36 years of age, he certainly is not a sprightly cricketer. If anything he is a straggler on the field. The bowling too is not as sharp and incisive as it used to be. Of course, Mishra found him too hot to handle. But no bowler can expect to bowl to a batsman of Mishra’s limited ability at every IPL outing.
On the other hand, every team has both overseas and Indian batsmen capable of going hell for leather. On the short boundaries and firm pitches, it would be hell to pay for bowlers who are off colour or not up to it.
Watson went for 41 runs in three overs against Sunrisers Hyderabad and bagged 1 for 21 against Delhi Daredevils, the match where Mishra failed to put bat to ball most of the time. His two overs against KXIP were smashed for 28 runs. His batting scores of 22, 24 and 1 have also not been inspiring.
The Australian all-rounder’s strength in previous seasons was the ability to turn on the heat and deliver in crunch situations. He did so brilliantly in 2013 against a strong Chennai Super Kings side, where his 101 off 61 balls with six sixes and six boundaries brought the roof down.
RCB certainly will be hoping that they have not pinned their hopes on the wrong horse. Watson needs to dip deep and find that form and hunger that made him such a coveted and feared cricketer in T20 circles. The sooner he does that the easier RCB’s legion of faithful fans will breathe. Just do it, Watson!
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Updated Date: Apr 11, 2017 12:56:02 IST