FRACTURED relationships, “homework-gate”, hearing a public denouncement that he wasn’t always a team man and the stress of cricket subsided when Shane Watson held his new son in his arms.
“Everything else just went out the window,” Watson says. “It did provide a hell of a lot of clarity. This is a major reason why, if you are lucky enough to have children, it is one of the reasons you are on the planet, to bring beautiful things into the world.
“Now I’ve got more important things to worry about. All the other things that used to take up time in my mind – I now spend that time focusing on Will.”
Watson has been through a storm in his professional life, starting last month when he was one of four cricketers – Usman Khawaja, James Pattinson and Mitchell Johnson were the others – who failed to write a report requested by coach Mickey Arthur after Australia lost the first two Tests in India.
All four were suspended for the next match.
Watson, as a team leader, was criticised by Arthur, Cricket Australia high-performance manager Pat Howard and captain Michael Clarke as he returned home to a blaze of publicity to be there for the birth of Will. He has been forced to defend his relationship with Clarke, insisting their leadership was not dysfunctional.
Many point to what happened in India as the tipping out in a tumultuous 14 months for Watson and Clarke. They say Watson’s vice-captaincy became untenable and led to the 31-year-old stepping down from the role before the Ashes squad was announced.
Cricket sources have told The Sunday Telegraph that Watson was pushed. He won’t comment on speculation, but he says it was an honour to be vice-captain and getting the chance to lead the team when Clarke was injured.
“The times I had the chance to captain Australia was the most fun I had on the cricket field,” Watson says.
But some barbs hurt more than others. One of the most testing bouncers came from Howard, who implied the all-rounder could be selfish. Does he move on from criticism easily?
Cricket Australia has announced that Shane Watson has stood down from his role as Australia’s vice-captain.
“In the end you have to learn to move on,” Watson says. “Criticism is something I have always dealt with throughout my career.
“The thing that has got me through the past month or so is the quality of people who have supported me publicly or personally – that was overwhelming. You can’t please everyone, not everyone is going to like me. I am comfortable with that.”
During the aftermath of India, when things were really tough for him, Watson says he was blown away by the mountains of text messages and phone calls supporting him.
And while the game’s hierarchy may have lost faith in him at times, many of our greatest players haven’t.
Last week, two former captains pointed to Watson as a key to Ashes success. Mark Taylor dubbed him one of the best openers in the country while Steve Waugh said had the skill to score 600 runs in the series against England.
However, Waugh also noted that Watson has “to get his mind right”. The roadblock for Watson has always been converting his starts into big scores.
In Test matches, he has two centuries against 19 fifties. He has not scored a tone in his past 39 innings.
“Look, I know in Test matches I have not been able to convert my good days into great days,” Watson says. “Certainly the best players in the world do. It is something in Test cricket I just have not been able to do.
“I do put a lot of pressure on myself to get hundreds.”
But in the past three weeks in India for the IPL, Watson has had an epiphany of sorts. He approached his Rajasthan Royals coach Paddy Upton, who has helped him essentially to unload unnecessary pressures.
Upton has stressed to Watson that he must “stay in the moment” when he bats.
“Paddy has been able to give me an amazing perspective on batting, and not being able to go on and get hundreds. He’s helped me to break it down, what my expectations are,” Watson explains.
“So instead of over-whelming myself when I wake up, thinking, ‘I want to get 100, I need to get 100’ … it’s now about being able to enjoy the moment of batting against the best players in the world.
“It’s about not letting my mind drift back into the past, into a previous games or previous few balls or to go into the future and thinking about making it a good day.
“It’s about staying in the present. It sounds simple, but when you are out there and it is you and your mind against the opposition … that is my biggest challenge and I am excited by it.”
Watson says he can often see the light in difficult experiences. He notes one of the darkest moments in his cricket career gave him the greatest experience of his life.
While Watson was serving the one-Test suspension for not doing his the “homework” requested by coach Mickey Arthur, it allowed him to return home to be with wife Lee for the arrival of Will.
“I could never have imagined what I was going to miss out on,” Watson says. “It was the most amazing thing I have ever been through in my life.
“To create a little human being really is a miracle. To see what Lee went through for Will to be born … to have a little boy and follow on the tradition of passing down my middle name, which is my dad’s as well, meant a hell of a lot to me.”
He describes the first week of Will’s life as perfect. Watson can’t contain his admiration for Lee and the joy that Will has brought to their lives.
“It was easily the best week of my life,” he says. “To spend time with Lee and Will and doing everything I could to make him feel happy and peaceful, it was just amazing.”
Being a night owl, Watson was up to prepare Will for feeding. He cherished every moment of it, be it bathing him, dressing him, or just walking along the Cronulla foreshore as a family.
“I tried to do everything possible,” Watson says. “I love to be hands on, be it changing nappies or settling him. It was an amazing time.”
There is also freedom in Watson’s voice these days.
“The (shackles are off), they have to be,” he says. “I am just going to go out there and have fun. I want to give back to the people who have been supportive to me throughout my life and career.”