The news that Shane Watson will be self-limiting his bowling should come as no great surprise. He has done so before, many times, with the first occurrence dating back nearly a decade to the year before the infamous haunted-mansion Ashes Tour of 2005.
Watson, despite his bulging physique and American Dad!-style chin, just isn’t made for bowling long spells. He sends the ball down well and over the past decade has increased his movement both through the air and off the pitch. He is one of the few part-timers with the ability to change a match. However, the forty-eight overs he sent down in Hobart have likely put him out of the rest of the International summer.
In response, Watson elected to remove himself semi-permanently from the Australian attack. This comes in spite of the rather extreme circumstances of Hobart. Those four dozen overs were by far the most he’s bowled in a Test: before Bellerive, the most Watson had ever bowled in five-day competition was 35 overs at Nagpur during Jason Krezja’s match.
It’s damning for Watson that rather than moderating his bowling, he has turned his back on the leather altogether. Not so much for his character but his Test career, because flinging the leather is perhaps the one thing that differentiates him from his “competition” for a position in Australia’s top order.
While said competition is hardly beating at the door with force, Watson has voluntarily removed his single most attractive, marketable skill. Selectors make selections based on the amount of currency held by players: players gain those bargaining chips by accumulating runs or wickets, by boasting a legacy or a posing unique threat to the opposition. Only two years from being anointed the next great one, Watson has none of these.
It has been nearly 2 ½ years since he made his second – and last, til now – Test ton. Over that span, his average has been 35.7, near enough his career number of 37. If one was to hazard a guess at what replacement-level at Test level was, 35 might well be it: capable of some excellence and a shedload of utter mediocrity.
Whether any putative successors could actually reach this theoretical replacement level is very much up for debate. Usman Khawaja seems to have first dibs on Mike Hussey’s vacated no. 6 position, leaving Watson’s challengers the likes of of Alex Doolan, Joe Burns and Glenn Maxwell. Not only does each of these players have some domestic currency to present the selectors, but each also hints at the unique promise of future glories. Watson, with his pedestrian batsmanship and now shorn of his bowling, presents an argument based heavily upon incumbency and seniority.