Shane Watson was very different from the usual Australian cricketers, yet had some facets in him that were quintessentially Aussie. He could glare with rage and talk a thousand words with his eyes, and he also had a smile that could melt all the heat that he previously created.
Indian fans will never forget that young face of his which looked so innocent yet took the mantle on his shoulders to take Rajasthan Royals all the way. If not with the bat, he would get you with the ball and if not for both, he was always going to make his presence felt on the field.
It is debatable if he was a part of the “Mighty Aussies” of the early 2000s or not, but he definitely was a part of the 2007 World Cup squad which so ruthlessly went all the way.
He was an all-rounder who left others of his kind envious of his talent, an all-rounder who had it all to make a special place for himself in the already grand Australian folklore, was only denied many more special moments by injuries.
I have no story that’s unknown and could raise an eyebrow. The one that stands tall in my memory is a chapter that many have loved over the years.
Short-pitch bowling of the highest order
Wahab Riaz vs Shane Watson – This duel was everything a cricket fan could’ve asked for. Perhaps the Pakistani Cricket lovers might not like this, but a big thank you to Rahat Ali for putting that catch down. An exhibition of short-pitch bowling cricket hasn’t seen many times in the modern era, bouncers with pin-point accuracy aimed at his head, so much of the ducking and terror-stricken backfoot defending, and aggression which was just about perfect from both ends.
Pakistan had posted 213 runs on board and it was evident Adelaide had something special to offer to the seam bowlers. But the question as always was, can Pakistan do it? A team known to script the unscripted, think the unthinkable, beaters of odds and logic, to put it briefly – An unpredictable bunch, no one had a clue if the hat in their hands was empty or if a rabbit was waiting to pounce out.
Some early wickets left Australia crippled, but the presence of Steve Smith and Shane Watson, in a very precarious situation with three down inside 11 overs, was reassuring to those who bled yellow.
Born and bred in a Gharana famous for its seam bowling talent, Wahab Riaz only had one attention-grabbing moment in his career before this spell, which came against India in the 2011 World Cup semifinal. As destiny had it, unfortunately for the left-armer, both came in a losing cause. A classic game-lost-hearts-won scenario which makes for a great story, but is never satisfying for the cricketer himself.
While Watson ducked to save his head, Riaz ensured he kept the man thinking by mixing his length cleverly. What people remember are the bouncers that made the crowd go “Ohhh”, but for one of the few occasions in his career, Riaz looked like a premium fast bowling talent, one who could make the greatest of the greats struggle. That spell had everything a fast bowler can dream of.
Besides a couple of occasions when a top edge nearly carried to the third-man fielder and a blooper of a lifetime for Rahat Ali, Shane Watson got that covered quite wonderfully. He also did well to not lose his composure, which perhaps could’ve determined the result. Or to say it this way, it perhaps was the determining point.
At least in my watching experience, there have been very few instances when cricket was so dramatic. Every ball from Riaz kept people on the edge of their seats, and when Watson pulled him for a six over mid-wicket with 20-odd runs remaining, the Aussie fans were able to breathe again. Up until then, the yellow and green armies in the ground could feel the hostility down their nerves.
The game was done, Australia had won, both Wahab Riaz and Shane Watson appreciated each other and though it was inevitable that a fine was on its way, just the sheer aggression and love for the game was so palpable and invigorating, that a standing ovation was just not enough.
Brian Lara even took a dig at the match-referee saying “I’ll pay Wahab’s fine”, which summed up how the fans felt about it. Fair to point out, even the Aussies absolutely loved what was on store, which left everyone scarred with a cricketing memory of a lifetime.
To call him a man for the big occasion could be an understatement, and one could not thank him enough for the outstanding memories he provided. He may never fall in the bracket of some other elite all-rounders of his generation, but he will hold a special place in the hearts of those who witnessed his magic.