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Shirin Sadikot in Cape Town

The Shane Watson coaching manual

Sydney Sixers’ all-rounder reveals the technical secrets of his subcontinent success

They say that cricket is a simple game. But if one dwells deep, the infinite intricacies of this game will never cease to fascinate. It’s amazing how a minute change in the positioning of a foot impacts the performance of a cricket player. A slight adjustment in gripping the bat can make someone a better batsman. A tiny change in the direction of a bowler’s wrist decides the end result of the delivery.

In cricket, like in life, the small things matter. One man who has understood and embraced this fact wholeheartedly, is Shane Watson. The tall and burly Australian all-rounder has taken his batting to a new level in the limited overs formats and this has a lot to do with his performance in the subcontinent.

Where some of the best batsmen of his built and skills have struggled to make consistent impact on the slow and low pitches despite living by the coaching manual, Watson has flourished by rewriting the rulebook. Five years with the Rajasthan Royals in the IPL have given him enough time to work on his subcontinent game. And when he won four consecutive Man of the Match awards in the 2012 ICC World Twenty20, in Sri Lanka, the result was there for all to see.

Currently in South Africa to help the Sydney Sixers get to the final stages of the CLT20, Watson spoke to clt20.com and revealed the minor technical adaptations that have made him so successful on subcontinent tracks.

The World Twenty20 phenomenon

I think my build-up to the World Twenty20 was as good as it gets. I had five weeks at home to do a bit of training and then was able to work on a couple of things in my game during the T20I series against Pakistan in Dubai. My preparation for the tournament was perfect. With the amount of international cricket being played these days, you cannot really set yourself up for a big tournament. So, this was a blessing. It gave me time to relax my mind and hone my game. Things just worked out really nicely, especially for the first four games.

Cracking the subcontinent code

I’ve been very lucky to play a lot of cricket in the subcontinent. I’ve played for the Rajasthan Royals in the IPL for five years now and that has certainly helped my game, especially against spin in the shorter form of the game. To get used to the conditions you have to be able to adapt to them. You need special adjustments to play on the subcontinent tracks and the wickets in Sri Lanka were not too far away from those in India. So, I could take on some of the best spinners in the world. When the ball is turning it is a big challenge as my last couple of games at the World Cup showed.

The horizontal heights

There’s no doubt the pace and bounce in the Australian wickets makes it a bit easier to execute the horizontal bat shots. What I found is if the wicket is slow, the ball does hold up a little bit more and that enables you go get a bit more of elevation. With the experience of playing in the IPL, especially, I got the understanding of how different wickets react and I could work on my game accordingly. If the wickets are a bit slower, you try and use the pace a bit more to get the elevation.

The falling knee

To get to the height of the short balls that don’t bounce much on the low tracks, I fold my back knee. That’s something that I’ve been working on for five-six years and I’ve finally been able to find a way to tackle some of the best bowlers in the world. Most of these bowlers don’t give you too many bad balls to hit. So, I’ve just tried to find a way where I feel like I’m in control against them.

Attack off the backfoot

I’ve worked on a couple of technical things to be able to give myself a chance to use the length of the ball on low wickets. By sitting back and loading on the back, I can use the length to get a bit more swing and elevation. The thing that I worked on most was to get momentum back through the ball. Earlier, when I just stood still, I wasn’t using my weight distribution to get to the ball and I thought I didn’t get as much power.

Unless I got the ball right in the middle of the bat, I didn’t get it going anywhere near where I wanted it to. Now, by leaning back, I use my body weight to get momentum and power in my shots. Some guys use their feet to charge against quick bowlers, but if I do that, I’m nowhere near as successful as my head moves around and I find it hard to pick up the ball. So, this is my way of getting my body weight back through the ball.

The flat-batted straight drive

It is a shot that has evolved because of the technique I use to get the momentum back on the ball. Initially, I never thought I could play that shot like that, but once you work on a particular technique, different shots come out and that’s one of those. Even against a good ball, I feel if I’m in the right position, I can hit a boundary. It doesn’t always pay off but when it does, it’s always nice to know that the bowler’s under a bit of pressure.

The scoops and switches

If I get out playing any of those shots, I’ll be very, very disappointed with myself. I try and keep it very simple and not premeditate a shot. But it’s definitely something I’m thinking about, having seen how some of the best players in the world are able to do it. Someone like David Warner, with the kind of skills that he has – he can actually bat right-handed very well. But seeing someone like Mahela Jayawardene using such shots to manipulate the field was amazing. I’ve certainly got a few things in my mind about how I want to continue developing my game but I try and keep them secret until I use them.

Passing the ‘Test’

To succeed in Test cricket is one of my biggest challenges. When you’re playing so much cricket, making the transition from one format to another is a big challenge. For me to adapt to Test cricket is something that I haven’t been able to do that well consistently. Hopefully, in the next couple of weeks leading up to our Test series against South Africa, I’ll be able to make that transition well.

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