Brett Lee tells World Cup hero Shane Watson’s critics to feast on their words

Former Australian pace bowler Brett Lee was adamant Shane Watson had finally silenced his critics after he overcame unfriendly fire from Pakistan’s Wahab Riaz in Friday’s World Cup quarter-final to guide Australia to a six-wicket victory – and a semis berth.
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Lee, who played in Australia’s triumphant 2003 World Cup team, added Watson was the calibre of player the Michael Clarke-led Australians needed if they’re to win their fifth crown, while he admitted it still surprised him the all-rounder was dropped for the qualifier against Afghanistan.

“I think he’s made plenty of people eat their words,” Lee said. “His batting [on Friday] night was one of the best innings I’ve seen under pressure. You need to realise Riaz was bowling serious pace and it was one of the best spells of fast bowling – especially from Pakistan – I’ve seen in a long time.

“That pull shot he played off Riaz [the six] was the shot of the match. Yes, he was dropped [on four] but he [recovered to] provide a steady hand, all because he’s someone who has been in that situation many times before.

“And that’s my point. In Shane Watson we have a bloke who has played [185] one-day internationals and his experience will help Australia go a long way to fulfilling it’s aim to win the World Cup. His innings against Pakistan was a mixture of guts and maturity … he steadied the ship because Australia was under pressure [at 3-59] when he came in.”

Watson finished the quarter-final unbeaten on 64 but he and Riaz were fined by the ICC for their conduct during their explosive duel triggered by the Pakistani tailender being ridiculed by the Australians – including Watson who supposedly asked him “do you have a bat?” – when he struggled against Mitchell Starc.

Riaz was fined 50 per cent of his match fee, Watson 15 per cent of his. The penalty for the Pakistani was the maximum allowed for a level-one charge.

Riaz’s opening delivery to the 33-year-old was a menacing bouncer that the Pakistani followed through in an intimidating manner. He then proceeded to bowl a salvo of bouncers and revelled in Watson’s obvious discomfort with mock applause and later by blowing kisses.

Watson lashed out at Riaz’s ninth delivery with an attempted pull shot but the ball flew off his top edge to fine leg. He was walking towards the dressing room when Rahat Ali fumbled what should’ve been an easy catch. When Watson belted Riaz for six later on in the innings, he greeted the Pakistani’s tirade of expletives with a smile.

Lee said the way in which Watson handled the challenge from Riaz – who hit 150 km/h – added weight to his long-held view that Watson ought to be one of the first picked in Australia’s line-up.

“I don’t know why Shane needs to continually prove himself to the media and to some people,” he said. “It’s unfair he doesn’t get the respect he deserves because he’s a classy player.

“I was shocked when he was dropped for the game against Afghanistan because I thought that was an opportunity to give him time in the middle.

“The way he’s accepted being dropped and accepted being put back in the team has been magnificent. I know people say ‘drop him’ but he proves himself every single time at the Allan Border Medal.

“That’s the test of what a player is worth to the team [because votes are cast by team members] and he’s always up there. Not many can play Test, one-day or T20 cricket, or bat, bowl and field, but he does. He’s a rarity.

“He doesn’t just offer a lot with bat, ball and in the field, but behind the closed doors of the change rooms he works with the young guys as they come through.

“Speak to the players about when they were young guys – Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Johnson and now Josh Hazlewood – and they’ll speak highly of Shane’s presence because he’s willing to pass on the lessons from his own experiences.”

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