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'When things don't go well the media hammers you'

Australia's Shane Watson during day one of the first Ashes Test in Cardiff in 2015.
Australia's Shane Watson during day one of the first Ashes Test in Cardiff in 2015. Rui Vieira

CRICKET: By the end of his international career, Shane Watson's LBW struggles were - rightly or wrongly - what defined him as a cricketer.

The former Australian all-rounder developed a habit of getting struck on his front pad, and no matter how hard he tried, it was a problem he never truly overcame.

Everyone knows your frailties are glaringly exposed in the spotlight that is international cricket, and for Watson, his penchant for middling the Kookaburra with his leg rather than his bat made him an obvious target for ridicule.

To make matters worse, he struggled with the Decision Review System (DRS). Watson would regularly challenge his dismissals only for replays to show the ball continuing on to hit the stumps. This luckless trend was most notable during the 2013 Ashes series, which England won 3-0.

Watson - and the rest of Australia - knew he had a problem. But that didn't mean he knew how to fix it.

Conducting an Ask Me Anything Q&A on Reddit, the 35-year-old revealed his LBW struggles stayed with him until the very end of his Test career - but his biggest problem was more mental than technical.

"I never really fully overcame the issue - the last time I played Test cricket I got out LBW both times (to Stuart Broad and Mark Wood in Cardiff during the 2015 Ashes)," Watson said.

"It was always something I worked incredibly hard on because I don't like failing or losing, that's just how I am and how I'm built, so I always tried really hard to eradicate that problem.

"It was always challenging. Different people have different weaknesses. For me, it was getting out LBW and I used to work incredibly hard technically on it all the time.

"But the one thing I didn't really work on was the mental aspect of exactly how (the bowler) was setting me up to expose myself to getting out that way regularly, so that was a big challenge."

While he had an unflattering, almost comical, run with reviewing his LBW decisions, by the end, Watson had come to terms with the fact he wasn't the best judge and so decided to just go with the umpire's call.

He says having to learn a whole new aspect of the game so late in his career was the most difficult part of mastering the DRS.

"The review process I found challenging because growing up the umpire's decision was always final, so you don't need to worry about whether you're out or not. If the umpire gave you out, you're out," Watson said.

"As soon as the reviews came in you had to change your whole understanding of whether it's out and the rules that go with the umpire's call, so it took me a while to realise I just hadn't worked that out at all.

"Obviously I made a number of bad reviews, and in the end I just gave up and went with 'if the umpire gives you out, you're out'."

Watson had plenty of haters. Whether it was his struggle to convert promising starts (he scored just four centuries to go with 24 half-centuries in 59 Tests), his poor body language or constantly being sidelined with injury, plenty of Australians had very little sympathy for him.

He knows better than most just how tough it can be when your performances don't match up to what others expect of you. Responding to recent criticism from former Australian opener Ed Cowan, who said Cricket Australia doesn't do enough to support players who have been dropped, Watson could definitely relate.

The matter has become a talking point in Australian cricket recently with the announcement NSW batsman Nic Maddinson - who played three Tests this summer before being dropped - has taken time out from the game for personal reasons.

Watson had plenty of dark times.

"It's incredibly challenging, there's no doubt. I went through different waves throughout my career where you feel incredibly lonely.

"I've been very fortunate to have great friends and family around me but there are times you want to dig a hole and stay there until the sun doesn't come out," Watson said.

"There's no doubt that the media scrutiny when you play for your country is intense, and the public can also get really personal about what they think of you.

"I find it very interesting how when you're in form you're the greatest bloke but when you don't do well you go from a good person to a bad person.

"Some people can naturally deal with such things but others might not have the coping mechanisms to deal with that scrutiny.

"I know what Ed Cowan said is absolutely spot on - when things don't go well the media hammers you, the public hammers you and you come out the other side and you're a shell of your former self."

But there have been highlights too. Along with those four hundreds in the whites, he scored nine tons in ODIs, including a best of 185 not out.

However, Watson rates his best innings as the one he played in the quarter-final of the 2015 World Cup against Pakistan, when he scored an unbeaten 60.

Coming in at 3-59 chasing 214 for victory, he weathered a seriously quick spell from Wahab Riaz that was peppered with aggressive short stuff and led Australia to victory.

The right-hander was dropped in that innings and looked far from comfortable in the face of Riaz's hostility - it wasn't exactly vintage Watson - but the fact he was able to come through it and set Australia on the path to winning the World Cup made it an extra special innings.

"The one that stands out was my 60 against Pakistan in the quarter-final of the World Cup in Australia," he said.

"That was a really important time in my career as I had been dropped two games before and it was always my dream to play in a World Cup at home.

"It was a huge highlight. I certainly had my luck against Wahab - not just with the dropped catch but there were a few times I could have been out.

"It was probably the most satisfying innings that I had playing for Australia in front of my home crowd with so much expectation for us to be able to win that game."

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