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September 27, 2002 | 1134 IST

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Australia's Watson relishes new roles

Brian Murgatroyd

Australian all-rounder Shane Watson is relishing the challenge of international cricket, even though he is being asked to fill different roles from the ones he occupies at state level.

Watson has established himself in the one-day line-up by batting in the lower middle order with the brief to push on in the final overs. With the ball he is being asked to keep things tight after Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie's opening spells.

It is a far cry from Watson's roles for Tasmania where he bats in the top order and is viewed as one of the state's prime strike bowlers but he said the change of emphasis was helping to improve his all-round game.

"It's not frustrating, in fact it's really enjoyable," Watson told Reuters as Australia prepared for Friday's Champions Trophy semi-final with Sri Lanka.

"It's great to be able to develop different parts of my game, not just batting at four and bowling first change as I do for Tassie (Tasmania).

"I've batted at three or four all my junior career so from that point of view it's been a blessing in disguise to work on another aspect of my game," he added.

With the bat, the 21-year-old Watson has rarely had the chance to build an innings for Australia. Usually batting inside the final 10 overs, his mission is to hit fours and sixes and rotate the strike, something that has been hard work technically and mentally.


"It's not so much the hitting, it's the mental thing of hitting the ball in the air," he said.

"Ever since I was a little fella the idea was not to hit the ball in the air as it gives you a higher chance of getting out so that is something I've had to develop.

"It's a question of having the confidence to hit over the top and knowing where you want to hit the ball. The idea is that 90 percent of the time you hit in the air it's going where you want it to go," Watson said.

Watson's main strength has always been his batting, the result of three sets of stress fractures in his back that restricted his bowling as a teenager.

But it was his bowling that brought him to national attention last season when he claimed 11 wickets in a day against his native state Queensland, under the watchful eye of chairman of selectors Trevor Hohns, to help secure a place on the tour of South Africa.

His aggressive style with the ball is suited to first-class cricket but he has fared less well at domestic one-day level where he proved extremely expensive.

But when he came into the Australian one-day side in South Africa in March his role was to close down the middle overs of the innings with disciplined line and length bowling.


"With my bowling I've just been trying to bowl really smart," he said. "I have to get my runs per over down and my role is simply to tie it up and let the others guys get the wickets.

"If I can bowl six balls in a row where I want them, well, that's what I'm working towards and to go at three or four an over and no more is my big goal."

Watson's impressive temperament was quickly on show at senior level when he reached three figures in his debut innings for Australia with a six, against South Africa A in Port Elizabeth in March.

Quiet progress in the one-day series followed before he responded to the chance of time in the middle during a recent match against Kenya with an unbeaten 77 to win the game.

In the Champions Trophy he has been chipping in almost unseen with quiet, useful contributions and captain Ricky Ponting singled him out for praise on the eve of the semi-final with Sri Lanka, as he looked ahead to the World Cup in southern Africa.

"Our only concern has been the all-rounder position and we've rotated several players but Shane has come in and I've been really happy with his progress over the last few weeks," said Ponting.

For Watson the World Cup is almost within touching distance just two years after he was playing in the under-19 version of the event in Sri Lanka, going home as Australia's leading run-scorer in the tournament.

"I'm trying not to think too far ahead but obviously it's a major goal of mine. It's the all-round package the side is looking for and there are a lot of little things I have to improve on to get there," he said.

Mail Cricket Editor

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