x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Shane Watson's Ashes delight with hundred against England

Australian takes full advantage of poor day with ball for England to help side to 307 for four on first day of fifth Test, writes Paul Radley.

Shane Watson strikes a shot during his innings of 176.
Shane Watson strikes a shot during his innings of 176.

It was always said that Shane Watson was an island within this Australia team. Rarely was it ever meant as a complement.

For once, the enigmatic all-rounder separated himself from his teammates because his feats were on a different plane at the Ashes on Wednesday, not his attitude.

Perhaps his dislocation from the rest of his colleagues, a theory ventured by Mickey Arthur, the former coach, and Pat Howard, Australian cricket's head of elite performance, has been overplayed.

After all, he did get a hug from the team mascot, Steve Smith, who was his batting partner at the time he reached three figures. Granted, it was an awkward embrace, but still.

When Watson eventually fell for a career-best 176 with three overs left of the opening day of the fifth Test, Watson had scored more than 60 per cent of his team's runs on his own.

By tea, with his first century in 45 visits to the crease having been achieved, he had 121 from 157 deliveries. The rest of the team had managed 42 off 32.4 overs between them

He was having such a good time, he even got a review right. This clearly was a day of days.

By that time, he was already on 166, and Australia 263 for three (or four, depending on which way you look at it) when he correctly overturned the umpire's decision, having been given out lbw to the debutant bowler Chris Woakes.

And Alastair Cook, England's captain, had dropped a relatively facile catch at slip to dismiss him when he was on 104.

Everything was running for him. Pity the series has already been decided.

Without taking away from what Watson achieved – and he showed great durability after being hit on the jaw when on 91 he was hardly up against the toughest fare.

As Test cricket between these nations goes, this was hardly vintage – more Ashes Lite. For much of the time, the bowling he faced would have been less testing than the morning throw-downs.

With the best will in the world, some of England's cricket was cringe-worthy.

After one day as a Test cricketer, Simon Kerrigan, the home team's new left-arm spinner, must be wondering how he is going to get through the next four, let alone a career in the game.

Being crippled by the yips, as the series of long-hops and full tosses Kerrigan sent down in the afternoon session pointed to, is no fun. Not even while playing car park cricket with tape-ball.

Suffering with it live in high definition on Test debut in the Ashes – even if the series has long been decided – must be heartbreaking to go through.

How he rebounds from his travails will be a mark of the young Lancashire bowler's character. Anyway, everyone will have to whisper any criticism of the England players quietly. Just in case Matt Prior is listening.

The England wicketkeeper used his column in an English newspaper on Wednesday to take aim at the team's critics.

His fire was scattershot, pretty angry and very paranoid.

"All the rubbish spoken before the Durham Test [which England won to clinch the series] galvanised the team," Prior wrote in The Daily Telegraph.

"We spoke about it in the dressing room, flushed it out and then moved on. We simply said, OK it is absolute rubbish but it is there, so use it and show people what we can do."

Prior's defensiveness jars somewhat. His side are already 3-0 up in the series. Imagine what he might have been like if he had played on the chronically underachieving England side of the 1990s.

Few seemed exempt from his ire, including keyboard warriors. Don't like Twitter? Then why be on it? It does provide a handy platform to plug books and endorsers, of course.

Thanks to the wicket of Watson three overs before stumps, England are still in with a chance of success in the final Test match of the English summer with Australia resuming today on 307 for four.

But whether they accept the criticism or not, their performance so far has been under par. They will need to make a marked improvement if an unprecedented 4-0 is going to happen.

pradley@thenational.ae

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