Watson emerging as one of Australia's most important cricketers

      Shane Watson has gone from fringe Test candidate to one of the most important cricketers in the country within a month. Having scored three half-centuries in the recent Ashes series, which Australia lost 2-1, Watson has taken on the mantle of a genuine Test opener, replacing batting tyro Phillip Hughes in the process. He has already mapped out a future plan that culminates in him leading the Australian batting card in the return series four years from now. "Absolutely," Watson fires with unwavering eye contact. "There's no doubt there will be a big series in Australia again, to win back the Ashes. But the true test is playing the English in their conditions, in their country, that would be amazing to be able to win an Ashes series here after the heartbreak of losing this series. It would be great to get the revenge in 2013," he tells the Sydney Morning Herald. Watson has only played 11 Tests in the last six years. He has had 12 major injury problems in the past six years. The man himself thought his Ashes chances were finished. "My goals were, before I came here, to hopefully get a spot in the team maybe batting at No.6 ... Marcus North was the guy that I was comparing myself to, but he started his Test career with an absolute bang so there was no way I was going to come in instead of him when he'd scored so many runs," Watson says. "At the start of the tour I had a bit of a niggle as well [thigh muscle tear] so at that stage I thought it was just going to be me being part of the group and helping out as much as I could, and preparing for the one-day series." Watson can be forever grateful that England all-rounder Andrew Flintoff troubled Hughes with the short ball. Down 1-0 after the Lord's hiding, under enormous pressure, Australian selectors rolled the dice. Ponting pulled Watson aside in the hotel bar one evening for a coffee, just before the third Test at Edgbaston, and said he was in line to replace 20-year-old Hughes. This was the same Watson whose only first-class opening experience had been six innings for Queensland, where he averaged 4.67 before quietly slinking back down the order. "Deep down I knew I was in a really good place, I also had the memories of a couple of years ago when I did open the batting which was very unsuccessful and I hardly scored a run, so I had that in the back of my mind," Watson says. "Before I went out to bat that afternoon at Edgbaston I was the most nervous I had ever been going out to bat. One because of the occasion, I've always dreamt of playing in an Ashes Test, but also being in a pretty foreign place and the last time I was there it wasn't very successful. "I was very, very nervous going out and it took a couple of overs of feeling comfortable ... but once I got through that I felt really good out there. I felt confident." From that match Watson has scored 335 first-class runs at 55.83, including 95 against the Lions in Canterbury. He is now one of the most valuable players in the Australian system, opening the batting and providing bowling cover in all three forms of the game. "Someone who can bat like that and can bowl and [has] great hands in the field, has always been important to the Australian squad," says stand-in captain Michael Clarke.

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