Michael Clarke has lauded Shane Watson’s team-first approach in the Perth Test and described him as an example to young players.
The triumphant captain has never suggested Watson to be anything but a team man.
Not publicly at least anyway.
But following the shambolic homework-gate scandal in India in March, team performance manager Pat Howard did go on the record.
Howard let slip in a press conference that he believed Watson “acts in the best interests of the team – sometimes”.
Former players who had played with Watson leapt to his defence.
And before the UK Ashes in June, Watson publicly stated that he and Howard had sorted out any misunderstandings.
But the innuendo reared its head again in July when leaked court documents showed sacked coach Mickey Arthur had accused Clarke of describing Watson as a “cancer.”
Clarke and Watson have stressed all along that there’s never been an issue with their relationship, and the pair were both filthy at Arthur.
But for captain Clarke to come out now and endorse the impact Watson’s selfless attitude had on Australia’s 3-0 Ashes win, was real vindication.
The 32-year-old’s brutal near run-a-ball century was quickly dismissed by some as a great innings, but at a time when Australia didn’t really need it.
However, Ben Stokes’ rearguard action for England on day five suggested it did matter.
Clarke said Watson’s willingness to risk his wicket by blazing 73 runs from 40 balls in the second innings was a lesson to teammates as Australia strive for a return to No.1 in the Test rankings.
“What Watto did the other day was put the team first,” Clarke said on Thursday, still a little croaky-voiced from Australia’s celebrations.
“He knew we were trying to score as many runs as we could before our declaration and he put the team first which is a great example to the young players that that’s what we’re trying to do in our team. It’s good to see.”
Watson made a slow start to the series, but he’s scored two centuries in four Tests to suggest Australia might have finally found their solution at No.3.
Prior to Watson’s ton at The Oval in August, the last hundred from an Australian first drop was Shaun Marsh in Sri Lanka two years previous.
“It’s obviously a tough position, there’s no doubt about it,” said Clarke.
“Watto is hitting the ball as good as I’ve seen.”
Clarke also paid tribute to the role Australia’s medicos have had on reclaiming the Ashes.
Team physio Alex Kountouris has kept Clarke in action despite his chronic back problems, doctor Peter Brukner has turned the injury-prone Watson into a regular contributor and Ryan Harris is preparing for his eight consecutive Test after emerging from years in the casualty ward.
“Alex and the doc Peter have done a fantastic job,” said Clarke, who also credited Cricket Australia for putting a greater emphasis on Sheffield Shield leading into the Ashes.
“We’re currently ranked fifth in the world. We want to be the No.1 Test team.”