If confidence is courage at ease, Shane Watson embodies it to the hilt. Two wickets had fallen within a space of two deliveries in Jaipur’s semifinal against Delhi, including one of the team’s lynchpin, Graeme Smith, and a perfect start was threatening to go awry.
A sudden nervousness gripped the dugout that was resonating with claps and high-fives a moment ago, with Shane Warne squirming in his chair with the air of a man who had just seen a portent.
The start was less than ideal — Watson opened his account by closing the face of his surprisingly sponsor-less bat early to Yo Mahesh and purloined a single and then saw Sohail Tanvir depart in the very next over. Déjà vu, felt many as a similar collapse had seen Jaipur being steamrolled over by Delhi in their season opener. But not the chisel-jawed, spiky-haired, broad-chested fearless Australian, who started executing his plans with dexterity, something which he has done with aplomb throughout the tournament.
The economy of Watson’s movement and the sheer absence of fuss as he goes about his work were strikingly apparent as he picked Mahroof’s slower delivery early and bludgeoned it straight down for his first four.
Shane Warne calls him the ‘Enforcer’ with one of his roles being to “give always to the team cause and take the attack to the opposition”. Watson seems to have taken it to heart as he laid into Yo Mahesh in the following over, smearing him over mid-wicket and long-on for two consecutive sixes.
With his strong forearms and broad shoulders providing the power and tremendous bat speed, Watson does not have to strive too hard to clear the fence. One stroke he has relied on is the cross-batted swat, a stroke he plays with such ferocity and command that even mis-hits clear the ropes. Within half an hour, Watson had won over the notoriously fickle Mumbai crowd -one that gave his Australian teammate Andrew Symonds hell -with the cries of “Watson, Watson” resounding in the stadium, an ovation normally reserved for Sachin Tendulkar.
When he finally departed for an unfettered 52 off mere 29 deliveries, an innings that contained three massive sixes and four boundaries, he had already turned the tables on Delhi, and given his team an excellent chance to reach the final. Yet, there was another job to do, a job he couldn't have taken lightly; bowl with the new ball to the lethal Delhi opening combine of Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir.
Once again, Watson did what was expected of him, perhaps even more, as he ripped a hole in Delhi's top order by claiming the prized wickets of Sehwag, Gambhir and Shikhar Dhawan. He bowled manfully and peppered the openers with short deliveries, often generating disconcerting bounce that troubled his adversaries no end.
The way he toyed and eventually scalped Gambhir was a dream. For four consecutive deliveries, Gambhir lanced at shadows as Watson rustled up pace, before perishing on the fifth ball to a stroke borne more out of frustration than intent. He ended with amazing figures of 3-0-10-3 and yet another Man-of-the-Match award, his fourth in 14 games.
For long, he has wanted to emulate Andrew Flintoff, but if he continues in the same vein, he just might carve his own niche.