05 April 2012

Book review: Shane Watson’s autobiography

Title: Watto
Author: Shane Watson with Jimmy Thomson.
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Year of release: 2011
ISBN: 978 1 74237 498 7
Pages: 297

The first thing I thought when I heard Shane Watson was releasing an autobiography was simply, “why?”
Nowadays so many sportsmen seem to release books regarding their personal lives before they’re even close to wrapping up their careers. In some cases many onlookers dismiss their highlighted achievements as nothing extraordinary within the game of professional sport. It’s perhaps seen as arrogant, but a decent money spinner to cash in while the going is good.

However, this book is different so don’t be fooled. It is almost like a confession, an honest plea to the reader to understand the Shane Watson story, to understand how hard it has been for him to get to the elite level.

Why was this book released at time when Watto’s career has only in recent years taken the major step up, where he now stands as a senior cricketer for Australia, and one of the most accomplished modern day cricketers?
I realised it’s because this bloke has been through way more injuries and setbacks than most sportsmen, let alone cricketers. Who knows when another injury could be triggered? The setbacks along the way had little to do with his cricket abilities. It’s a story that made me realise the true struggles and challenges Shane Watson, or ‘Watto’, has been through. It’s been a tough journey.

The book structure follows the usual formula where we’re given a glimpse into the early years of Watto’s life, peering through the imagination that was set free during the backyard cricket matches that took place. This follows through to his State days where we’re given insight into the politics with his move from Queensland to Tasmania, where he was able to put himself on the map. His return to Queensland is recognised as one where he was able to benefit from a really strong State system for a very strong emerging International cricketer. The politics gradually subsided as Shane Watson started to show his true colours.

What we’re exposed to chapter after chapter is something we’re all very familiar with. Injury!
The history of Watto’s injuries goes back to when he was just 12 years old and how it’s continued to burden his career. If I was to list each and every injury mentioned in this book, it would be quite a few pages. The media focus on this, over and above his abilities, clearly had an emotional impact on him, which has been so unfortunate but this sheds light as to just how bad the injuries were to affect both his professional and personal life.
If anything it made me appreciate what Watto has done for Australian cricket and just how damn hard he’s worked to get to where he is with his career.

Shane Warne wasn’t joking when he mentioned in his book Shane Warne's Century (2008):

Believe me, this guy has talent to burn. All he needs is a change of luck with his fitness to be able to show the world why we rate him so highly back home. Up to now he has given glimpses of his enormous potential, but if people saw him in the IPL this year and then in the one-day series in the West Indies they will know he is ready to deliver consistently." (Page 238, Shane Watson #76)

When recalling his matches for Australia there is a regular recall of stats and personal innings highlights. It was good to read about Watto’s special matches, mostly the games post the 2008 Indian Premier League when things really started to heat up with his batting. He writes about the experiences of personal and emotional outpourings when achieving match winning input for Australian cricket, e.g. The back-to-back hundreds in the ICC 2009 Champions Trophy semi-final and final, which followed the 2009 Ashes loss and some bleak limited overs performances for Watto.

Another truth about Shane Watson is that he’s a bloke who wears his heart on his sleeve. He’s also a mighty competitive bloke, so often these two characteristics can clash.
There is also a very honest account regarding clashes with opposition players and various opinions on other cricketers. This is another element of the clash between the emotional and competitive sides to Watto.
For example; the Chris Gayle incident, where Watto did that outrageously over the top appeal, is brought to light.

One thing that struck me is that whenever Watto has been in a spot of bother, Ricky Ponting has always been right there to talk him through everything. It’s a quality Punter has to connect with his teammates and nearly every Australian cricketer’s autobiography I read has nothing but high praise for Punter, well beyond his cricket abilities.

There’s also some excellent information into tactic, strategy and tips for the aspiring cricketer. This is something extensively covered in Michael Hussey’s book Driven to succeed.
Watto also writes how his batting technique came about, how he customised the perfect bat with GM (Gunn and Moore Cricket), and the art behind reverse swing bowling. I personally enjoyed these little snippets between each chapter, aptly called Drinks Breaks.

A good read was the perspective from another player regarding the infamous boot camp!
So far Watto is the youngest bloke from that camp whose opinion I have read, and he seemed to be the most enthusiastic of the lot for the camp. Incredible how the initial negative approach to it from the player’s and support staff turned into such a strong bond that led to a 5-0 Ashes victory and a fourth World Cup title.

Reading about Watto’s love for music and how it came about was refreshing. Sometimes our hobbies and passions in life come in about in mysterious ways. Watto’s was through injury – how appropriate! The connection to the guitar with music as his escape may have not become so deep had he not succumbed to so many injuries.

Along with the music he shares a bit about his relationship with his wife, Lee Furlong Watson. I like the family values that regularly come across with regards to how Watto lives his life. When he speaks of family or his personal ambitions outside of cricket he just strikes me as an all round sort of bloke - given the all-rounder he is it is fitting. For example, many “well known” couples would easily sell off their wedding photos and a big press story for their big day of union, but when Watto and Lee married it was a private setup which was very traditional. No paparazzi nonsense. The small things can make you look differently at someone.

The part of the book that summed it up for me was right in the beginning. It was quite a special story and the re-collection was great. It is, perhaps, a very symbolic moment in Watto’s career. It also made me realise how much his career must mean to him, especially thinking back to that first major setback as a kid.

I remember sitting in the doctor’s surgery after getting a bone scan that showed I had another hot spot – another stress fracture. I was shattered, thinking I might not be able to do what I had always wanted to do.
    I cried all the way home, then lay in my room just sobbing my heart out. Every kid has disappointments in life – many much bigger than mine. And plenty of boys would be happy to have done what I’d already achieved. But I had a dream and it had looked like there was a real possibility of it coming true...now it seemed it could be over.
   Dad came up to my room and said he wanted to have a chat to me. He took me out the back, underneath our big willow tree. The willow is famous for two things, weeping and cricket bats, and there I was, heartbroken because my dreams of being a bowler seemed like they were over. But Dad told me how proud he was of what I’d achieved already and of the things I’d been able to do. Like playing for the Queensland Under-12s – this he’d not done because he was never quite good enough. He told me not to give up; I still had my batting – I’d even won a bat for scoring a century for Ipswich Under-12s. The pep talk kept me going, because at that stage I could have easily packed it in. I remember that moment like it was yesterday – sitting there with Dad, still crying but talking it all through. The tree’s not there anymore, but I’ll never forget that day. It’s the kind of thing you’d put in a movie
.” (Extract from page 7-8)

I guess if there was something to take away from this book it would be the simplest piece of motivation to hear, but the hardest to follow through with. That is to never, ever give up, and this can only be driven through self-belief.
None of Watto’s achievements could have been possible had he not had the self-belief and motivation to keep going, to seek the best help to combat his injuries and having had the values to keep going to follow his dreams, which started in the backyard back as a child in Ipswich, Queensland.

Perhaps I would have enjoyed this book a bit more come the end of Watto’s career, but it sets a specific tone given its time of release with the high he must be on with his career in reasonably consistent action.
The question I asked myself was “why” did Watto release this book? It now seems to me that it was simply necessary to be shared with Australian cricket supporters, and I enjoyed it.

Twenty per cent of royalties from each book sale will be donated to Room to Read.

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Sid the Gnome said...

You missed the T at the beginning there ... oh wait, that was just me.

Ian said...

HAHA! I remember your comedy relief review of the book. Was pretty funny.