Australian cricket faces a tough choice. The resignation of Tim Paine, clean bowled by his own middle stump, has left us without a Test captain just weeks away from the start of an Ashes series.
A difficult decision must now be made: Steve Smith or Pat Cummins to be the new skipper?
The problem is that both options carry significant downsides: Cummins, though talented, intelligent, charismatic and possessed of eyes you can lose yourself for hours in, could easily find himself overwhelmed by the addition of captaincy to his current heavy workload, reducing his value as a fast bowler and preventing us from seeing more of his dazzling smile.
By the same token, Smith, despite his previous experience as captain, unfortunately also has previous experience as a ball-tampering halfwit, and though he is undoubtedly an older and wiser man than he was then, it might be better to let him concentrate on his batting rather than risk putting him in the awkward position of having to decide whether cheating is good or not again.
So, what do we do? Perhaps the time has come for Australia to think outside the box. Perhaps it’s time to look outside the obvious choices, to choose a captain not based on such ephemera as recent form or great hair, but on solid, unchanging values like integrity, analytical brilliance, and the kind of deeper wisdom that comes only from a lifelong battle against the adversity of one’s own personal limitations.
That’s right: I’m saying that Shane Watson’s time has come.
A lot of people will scoff at this suggestion, pointing out that not only has Watson not hit a first-class century or taken a five-for in the last 18 months, but he is also retired from all forms of cricket and has shown no interest whatsoever in playing ever again.
Well, let them scoff. They scoffed when Bob Simpson was made captain in 1977 following the mass defections to World Series Cricket, and Simpson proved them all wrong by leading Australia to victory over India – which is more than Tim Paine ever did.
If Simpson could succeed as Test captain several years after being declared legally dead, why can’t Watto fit the bill?
The idea of Shane Watson as Test captain carries a whole raft of benefits. To begin with:
1. He’ll be grateful
The problem with past Australian captains has been that they just haven’t really appreciated how lucky they are. They’ve treated the captaincy as an entitlement rather than a rare and precious gift. But put the reins in Watto’s hands and you cannot deny he is likely to be almost pathetically thankful for it.
He’ll probably cry for days, and that would be very moving. He would never take the captaincy for granted, because he would know how insanely unlikely it was that he got it in the first place.
2. He has demonstrated deep analytical expertise
His recent stints in the commentary box have proven that Shane is a deep thinker about the game, and understands cricket on both a technical and tactical level. The intelligence he displays in commentary would be a massive benefit to the team on the field.
And he wouldn’t necessarily have to give up his commentary gig either – in fact when not actually batting or bowling, there’s no reason Watson couldn’t captain from the box itself, providing entertainment and leadership at the same time in a manner not seen from an Australian captain since Kim Hughes’s retirement presser.
3. His knowledge of DRS is second to none
In the modern age, no part of a captain’s job is more crucial than the task of deciding whether or not to review umpiring decisions, as technology finally allows cricket to be played the way its founding fathers intended: with extended delays while the authority of on-field officials is challenged.
There can be no greater judge of DRS decisions than Shane Watson, for much the same reason as the best person to convince schoolchildren not to pursue a life of crime is an ex-convict.
4. He is scared of ghosts
This won’t necessarily come up during his captaincy stint, but if it does, I’d rather a ghost-fearing captain than one who recklessly charges headlong into ghost trouble, wouldn’t you?
5. He has a strong track record
As we know, Shane Watson has captained Australia before, in one Test during a tour of India. I can’t remember how that turned out but I am assuming it was fine.
6. He is a natural comedian
Sometimes the most pressing need a cricket team has is someone to relieve the tension in the dressing room and lighten the mood, to lift a little of the burden of professional sport from the players’ shoulders. Anyone who followed Shane Watson’s career will agree that his trademark hilarious escapades are just what the doctor ordered for an XI in need of a chuckle.
7. He is handsome, but not too handsome
Definitely sexier than Steve Smith and therefore a great way of attracting new and shallow fans, Watto nevertheless does not take it to extremes. He won’t distract teammates in the field the way Pat Cummins would, meaning incidents of players failing to listen to instructions because they’re mesmerised by the captain’s angelic beauty.
8. And most important of all: dammit, he deserves it
Be honest: aren’t you ashamed of how you used to make fun of Watto, how you used to laugh at him when he got out in the 90s, mock the gentleness of his outswingers and gnash your teeth when he got thumped on the pad yet again? Looking back, don’t you feel the pangs of remorse at how cruel and unfair we all were?
Well, don’t it always seem to go you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone? Today, we know what we’re missing: the strength, the brilliance, the upright basic decency of Shane Watson; and we would kill to have him back. And after all we put him through, we know it’s no more or less than what he deserves.
It’s time for Australia to do the right thing, both for Watto and for the nation. It’s time to strike fear into the English by placing at the tip of the baggy green spear the grizzled blond warrior they most dread. It’s time for destiny delayed to become destiny fulfilled.
It’s time for Captain Watson, and a new age of glory.