Shane Watson And Australia’s Sickening (Yet Entirely Predictable) Schadenfreude

Shane Watson has been dropped and, quite predictably, Australia is rejoicing in an entirely unbecoming fashion.

This dual Allan Border Medalist and World Cup winner – not to mention former test captain, even if it was just for one game – has seen his entire body of work reduced to a mere punchline.

The war on Watson has waged for years, most crudely on social media. Here, from the safety of their oft-anonymous Twitter handles, Australians have lambasted Watson for being a wasted talent, a mopey hack, a lumbering misery, a waste of taxpayers’ money – and everything in between. This website has participated, too, in a mostly satirical manner. All of us have been guilty of it at times.

But this schadenfreude towards Watson has reached a tipping point. Now, it’s getting ugly. It’s time to Australians to step back, rationalise, and perhaps reevaluate their contempt for Shane Watson.

The real issue here, of course, is that we expected too much of Watson. Australians need their cricketers to hit centuries and take five-fors. We need to lid blokes in consecutive deliveries. We must sledge voraciously. We must conform to long-held Australian cricketing stereotypes, basically.

Watson doesn’t do any of those things. He hits neat 30s and 40s. He dries up an end and takes the occasional wicket. He’s quiet in the slips cordon. When surrounded by the right company, Watson could be a celebrated role player. He’s Toni Kukoc in the mid-90s Chicago Bulls line-up: a massive unit who comes off the bench to provide a bit of spark in offense. The sixth man of the year. An integral part of the Bulls’ 1996-98 three-peat. Unfortunately, the current Australian line-up lacks a Jordan/Pippen equivalent, and therefore Watson’s failures become more glaring.

If there’s anything that frustrates Australians more, it’s a lousy R.O.I. We want quick returns to go spend on plasma TVs and Bali holidays. We want soaring BHP stocks to line our pockets for decades. On paper, Watson should be all this and more. Look at him – he’s 6-foot tall, blonde and full of muscles! Alas, Watson is an overvalued blue chip that went bust and burned Mum and Dad investors.

The intense vitriol leveled at Watson is a sad reflection on our society. Why, exactly, are we relishing his failure so much? Why are we deriving so much pleasure from repetitious LBW memes and DRS gags? What drives this schadenfreude? Is it because we ourselves are failing at life? Is it because we’re just fucking basic? Or is it because we, as a society, have become restless and desperate for a sense of unity? And if so, then why can’t we come together on important issues that would truly unite the country? Why Watson?

This writer admits to being frustrated with Watson’s failure to deliver on his “promise.” It’s hard to avoid. We’ve been reading about him since the late 90s; the breathless media touting him as the prototype 21st Century cricketer. But now, Watson looks like a throwback from the Flintoff/Kallis era, as Gideon Haigh wrote earlier this year.

According to Gideon, the modern test all-rounder bowls first and bats “a bit,” while the top ODI all-rounders are predominantly batsmen who bowl part-time.  As such, Shane Watson – like baggy jeans in the mid-2000s, or rugby union in 2015 – is simply going out of fashion.

“Watson today looks a little like a cricketer from another age, a vestige of the era walked by Jacques Kallis and Andrew Flintoff — multi-format all-purpose players capable of match-winning interventions with bat or ball,” Gids wrote.

Watson is just doing what he has always done. We expected too much. We expected the world. We wanted hundreds and five-fors in equal measure. So blame the selectors, if anyone, for continually selecting Watson. For shuffling him around the batting order. For persisting in him for so long. For viewing him as the silver bullet solution.

But don’t blame Watson.

By Dave Edwards

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