Shane Watson, the go-to man for skippers
Ten successive dot balls on zero, in an IPL final and while chasing 180 runs no less, can make one the target of harsh jokes. Two seasons back in the IPL, this was Shane Watson’s plight. Already part of the much-trolled Dad’s Army (as Chennai Super Kings were dubbed back then), the broad-shouldered Australian was reminded on social media that “this is not a day-night test match” as he struggled on the biggest stage against Sunrisers Hyderabad.
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Watson played 47 more balls that night at the Wankhede Stadium. Off those, he scored 117 runs – the highest by anyone in an IPL final - as CSK lifted their third title with nine balls to spare. “Towards the back end of the tournament I was hanging on for dear life,” the then 36-year-old Watson would say after his title-winning effort.
The “hanging on”, as he likes to put it, carried on for two more years – four since his international retirement – before Watson called it a day from all forms of cricket on Tuesday, a day after CSK’s edition ended in the group stages.
To play on till 39 for an all-rounder, especially a fast bowling all-rounder, is a remarkable feat. One that is perhaps not given the due it deserves. Hamstring, shoulder, calf, hip, back, stress fractures - Watson suffered from it all at some point of his career. Even during that 2018 final against SRH, he was playing with a hamstring strain and bleeding knee. Yet, he carried on. But no more.
“It all started out as a dream, saying to my mum as I watched a Test match as a 5-year-old, ‘I wanna play cricket for Australia.’ And now as I officially announce my retirement from all cricket, I feel crazily lucky to have lived out my dream, and then some. It really does feel like the right time,” he said in a video message on his YouTube channel, T20 Stars. “Knowing that I have played my last game of cricket, ever, for my beloved CSK, who’ve been so incredibly good to me over the last three years. To think that I am finishing up my playing days as a 39-year-old after all of my injury setbacks that I have had along the way, I feel so ridiculously fortunate.”
Indeed. A career record like Watson’s is certainly dream-like - two World Cup titles, leading Australia in all three formats, highest ODI score by an Australian (185*), most runs for Australia in T20 World Cups (537). But Watson’s greatness extends beyond international cricket as well. Having retired as the best-ranked T20I all-rounder after the 2016 T20 World Cup, he saw just as much success in franchise cricket as well.
While he won the 2018 IPL with CSK and guided Quetta Gladiators to the 2019 Pakistan Super League title, Watson achieved true T20 fame with a far less heralded side in IPL’s inaugural season. Thanks to his brute strength that helped him hit sixes at will and also his ability to swing the ball, Watson was the go-to man for Rajasthan Royals captain Shane Warne in 2008.
Few gave Royals a chance that season. Yet, Watson’s 472 runs (at a strike rate of 151.76) and 17 wickets (economy rate of 7.07) made the great underdog story come true, for which he was adjudged the Player of the Tournament. He stayed on in Jaipur until 2015, and then spent two unexceptional years in Bangalore before CSK gave him a shot in 2018.
Watson struck two centuries that season to take his IPL hundreds tally to 4 (behind only Chris Gayle and Virat Kohli on the all-time list) and was also CSK’s top run-getter in 2018 and 2019. Both years CSK made the final, for the team in yellow had found a player who could start an innings just as well as MS Dhoni could finish it.
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