Watson’s century gives Australia the upper hand
All-rounder particularly hard on England’s newcomers
Australia’s Shane Watson celebrates his century during day one of the fifth Ashes Test at The Oval. Photograph: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
After a day dominated by Australia, and Shane Watson in particular, England might, not without foundation, be accused of hubris. In the buildup to the final Test the talk had been of making history, of an unprecedented 4-0 series win, of setting down a marker for the winter. And to do this they would carry on doing what they do. Instead they cast aside the formula that has brought their success and brought in two debutant bowlers.
A single day is far too early to tell whether the totally unexpected inclusion of a second spinner in Simon Kerrigan and, contingent on that, Chris Woakes, a medium-pacer with some batting credential to shorten what would otherwise be a tail like a rat’s, will prove the right call. But Woakes found it a trial, generally pitching the ball up on a flat pitch to as strong a driver of the ball as Watson, while Kerrigan unfortunately fell apart, conceding 53 from eight overs and was lucky to get away with that. And Australia’s selections were thought to be quirky.
They will resume their innings on the second day having batted their way to a position of strength at 307 for four. Watson, batting with immense power, playing with the full face of the bat and generally keeping his front pad out of the way, justified his move back up the order to No3 by making 176, his third and highest Test century and his first in 47 innings, since that against India in Mohali.
He was not kidding when he said how relieved he was that Tim Bresnan was not playing and, if Darren Lehmann, as some suspect, was giving him one last chance to show his Test class, then in the nick of time, he has taken it. This was an emphatic response, notwithstanding the charitable offerings he received from Woakes and Kerrigan, and he hit 25 fours and a six, although that came from Graeme Swann rather than the hapless Kerrigan. At one time, until he got into the 90s, something of a problem area for him in the past, he was scoring at better than a run a ball, with the distinct possibility of a hundred before lunch.
If, until his spectacular demise as the day was drawing to a close, he was disadvantaged at all, it was rarely. When 91, beaten by Stuart Broad’s pace, he considered and then thought better of a pull shot at a bouncer, turned his head and was hit a nasty blow behind his left ear that left him groggy.
Then, on 104, he edged Anderson to Alastair Cook, a solitary slip, who dropped the relatively modest chance. Finally, when 166 and pulling wearily, he appeared to have given Woakes a maiden wicket when he missed and was deemed lbw. For once his review was justified. The ball was going over the stumps.