Shane Watson has been the stand-out performer in the Indian Premier League.
He has sensed ghosts - at the "haunted" Lumley Castle in England - has endured a severe bout of food poisoning that he thought was a heart attack, posed nude for a magazine, and has seen his home robbed by burglars while he lay fast asleep. Yet, nothing has traumatized Shane Watson as much as the savage run of injuries that has blighted his career.
Blond, chiselled, a ladies' man, and disarmingly gifted with bat and ball, Watson was supposed to carry the legacy once Australia's golden oldies put their feet up and reached for the pipes.
But a gamut of injuries — he has endured a stress fracture of the back, a shoulder injury, hamstring problems and even a calf injury — ensured that his international career, in its sixth year, has remained what it started out as — an eternal promise.
Bowling his first Test delivery against Pakistan in 2005, Watson stumbled and fell flat on his face. And as time passed, it seemed much more than a slip, rather a sign of things to come.
As his injuries become more recurrent, everyone grew exasperated, including "Australia's unluckiest sportsman" himself. But hope came in the form of a certain Victor Popov, a renowned sports physiotherapist, who put his "heart and soul" in toughening the fragile, susceptible body, and the "frustrated, out of kilter" mind of Watson.
"It was a tough, real tough period, mate" Watson said as he settled in for the interview granted after weeks of hectic attempts.
"The last couple of years were hellish as I missed the Ashes, and it's been a pretty long process since then. But I've been lucky to have one person, my guiding light, who has simply been amazing. Popov did quite a few different things with my body, he shook it up. And the guidance, time, and the knowledge he has given me have been vital in me being where I am now."
Where Watson is now is what many people call 'the zone', a place for which many long but few reach. Watson claims he is "nearly there", and going by the kind of performances he has put in, it is hard to disagree. He was set to be crowned Man-of-the-tournament and yet is draped in humility.
"The IPL has been an amazing opportunity and redemption for me. I'm lucky to have been a part of this extravaganza. It feels so great to be performing, being fit, and playing as well as I know I can. I have enjoyed it tremendously."
Watson has long been ridiculed for choosing intensity over longevity and wanting to emulate Andrew Flintoff, whereas actually, he has only followed the English hulk in cracking up frequently. When asked about his 'Freddie fixation', Watson was hesitating, though forthright.
"Yes, a couple of years ago, I used to compare myself to Flintoff.
“But now I am trying to be the best cricketer I can be, which means performing as an all-rounder. Flintoff is a great cricketer in his own right but we are different players, and I have realized that."
Now much wiser
Dressed in a Jimi Hendrix T-shirt and multicoloured bermudas, Watson appears a man at peace. As an impressionable youngster, he had been guilty of getting ahead of himself, but experience has certainly made him wise.
"I am not gonna think too far ahead now and bother myself. I know I have always been good at that and paid the price. I'm enjoying what I am doing, how I am doing it, and stringing a few games together.
“Hopefully, the opportunity to play for the country will come along soon, but I am serene now."
A free mind
It is said recuperation from an injury, especially for a fast bowler, is more mental than physical. There is always that lingering fear in the back of the mind that there might be a relapse if one strains too hard. Watson says that he has gone through this confining feeling, but has now eradicated the thought. And it is this "free mind" that has been the key in his rehabilitation.
"My mind is free and I have now the confidence in my body that I lacked. Now, I don't have things at the back of my mind like what happens if I get injured… This has been the difference," he confessed.