Shane Watson is happy to be opening the batting for Australia again. The first sign of his joy came on Thursday as he scored a 94-ball 90 against Somerset in a warm-up match ahead of the Ashes. Studded with 20 fours, Watson helped Australia score 266 for four despite the early exit of Ed Cowan. Somerset had scored 320 in their first innings at Taunton.
Watson's innings was a thank you message to Australia's new coach Darren Lehmann. After replacing Mickey Arthur, the former Aussie Test batsman wanted Watson to open the batting and the move has paid off.
"I know the way Darren operates and he certainly doesn't beat around the bush, he tells it how it is and that's a great thing," Watson said on Thursday.
"In my experiences with Darren playing with him and against him he certainly is very upfront, but he also does care when he needs to as well.
"It is black and white in a really good way. So it's nice for me to know I've got the backing of the coach to open. It's something I've been excited about to get that opportunity, and for that to be confirmed is a great thing," said Watson after the day's play.
Watson was the cynosure of all eyes from 2009-11, majorly under skipper Ricky Ponting. In the 19 Test matches he played from January 2009 till March 2011, he scored 1696 runs at 49.88 and also took 29 wickets at 29.41. His all-round prowess was so widely acknowledged that comparisons with Jacques Kallis became inevitable.
Things have take a turn for the worse since then. From April 2011 to March 2013, Watson has played is 14 matches, almost half of what he played between 2009-11. He amassed 627 runs at 24.11 while still maintaining his bowling form, taking 19 wickets at 27.
"That's the blueprint for me anyway, how Ricky used me when I was opening the batting, which worked nicely over that period of time," Watson said. "I was able to get through a lot of cricket without too many injuries, so hopefully I can get that period of time back again and get through a lot of cricket without too many injuries.
"Certainly opening the batting means I can't bowl too much which has worked for me in the past. Bowling-wise, I know I can contribute and that's why I do love bowling, but opening means I won't bowl as much as where I might if I was batting four especially. The balance worked previously so hopefully it can work again."
That he has a specific role in the team now, will augur well for Watson in the Ashes. Australia will want to get the urn back from bitter rivals and the all-rounder will be an integral part of the set-up if that has to be achieved. Lehmann might have instilled the confidence Watson was lacking though.
"I had a few chats with Mickey Arthur and Michael Clarke but there was nothing definite on my role. It is more specific now that Darren has come.
"It is the ultimate challenge to take on the best bowlers in favourable conditions. We have got a lot to prove, especially after the drubbing in India. We have the players to do that. England are a great side. Great stability. Good batting and great bowling line-up. But we are excited too," said Watson.