Cricket is no longer a team game

THERE was a time when cricket was a team game, when individual performances were all geared towards the collective good of the team. That era has long gone. But despite that, it’s only occasionally that the degree to which selfishness has come to dominate the game is on naked display.

The fourth day’s play in the first Australia-Pakistan Test provided one of the most crass displays of narcissism that I have ever seen in the game – and I’ve been following it for 42 years.

Much has been made of Shane Watson, an ordinary cricketer, who manages to look good because he comes up against mediocre bowling most of the time. Pakistan, a team which is as moody as the weather in Melbourne, has plenty of talent in its ranks but the players blow hot and cold, the latter most of the time.

Watson has played 14 Tests and is yet to make a hundred. He has come within four runs of the target and missed out. So far he has been unable to handle the pressure that comes from being in the 90s. Hence whenever he approaches the three-figure mark, there is some interest among the commentators to see if he will finally make it.

At the end of the third day, Watson was not out on 64. Australia was nicely positioned, 307 ahead with two days to go, and should have been looking for quick runs on the morning of the fourth day to give themselves enough and more time to ensure a win by bowling Pakistan out.

The 400-run target is normally some kind of a psychological point and most teams aim for this before effecting a declaration.

Australia is a bit more wary than most in this regard as both South Africa (414 in 2008-09) and the West Indies (418 in 2003) have chased down 400-plus scores to defeat them. Hence, it was reasonable to expect that Australia would look for about 450 just to be on the safe side – even if Pakistan had been dismissed for 258 in their first innings.

But they had not contended with Watson.

The entire morning session was wasted by the Queenslander. He added 34 runs to his overnight score in two hours. The others added another 47. Eighty-one runs were scored in 120 minutes on a good wicket – just the kind of thing which will attract more people to watch the game.

Watson spent nearly an hour going from 90 to 98. At lunch he was 98 not out. All the confidence he displayed on the third day – when a good many others, all more talented than him, got out – seemed to have disappeared. Which tells me one thing – he isn’t good enough to handle the pressure at this level.

The fact that the team needed a big lead – and Ricky Ponting would, no doubt, have given Watson an indication of when a declaration would come – was irrelevant. Watson scored at the rate of a snail, displaying a degree of nervousness that would have been worthy of someone making his debut in Test cricket.

The team’s needs were unimportant. His obsession with getting a century consumed him and everything else was secondary.

This is a man who has been playing international cricket for the last seven years. He has tried every trick in the game to try and project himself as being worthy of gracing the international stage. To me he looks like another Matthew Hayden, a pretender, who finds that the times suit him.

There are plenty of better openers in Australia: Phillip Hughes, Phil Jacques and Chris Rogers, to name just three. Perhaps Watson should announce his retirement soon so that more team-minded players can enter the ranks and serve Australia’s needs.