I often joke that the reason I came to live in Australia was so I could support an international Test team that wasn’t England. That’s a bit of an exaggeration but there would be an element of truth in that for any cricket-loving Scot.
Anyway, you can imagine my delight when I was approached by my publisher Allen & Unwin to see if I was interested in writing Shane Watson’s biography.
Now, to be fair, Shane would be the first to admit that he’s a bit young to have his life story written – but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a story worth telling. His battle back from being the player most likely to be out with injury to the first name on the team sheet is inspiring and compelling (and that’s without my help).
He wasn’t even 12 years old when he got his first back injury although it’s hardly surprising, given he was playing rugby union, rugby league and cricket at the time. Eventually, the other sports had to give way as he tried to build and strengthen his young body. A process that has often been misrepresented as vanity was really the results of his efforts to ward off injuries that had plagued him from an early age.
What he couldn’t have known was that all those hours in the gym were the worst thing he could have done. One observer said he was “too strong for his body” and while he scoffed at that at the time, he would later learn that there was a lot of truth in that comment. Physio Victor Popov was the first to suggest that he needed to build his core rather than his bi’s, tri’s and thighs. It took a lot of courage and determination to turn his back on the traditional view of team medics and take his own route to fitness. However he had been advised that the only cure for his recurring back injuries was to give up bowling.
Right now, Shane has been recovering from his first fitness issues for years but, he assures me, it’s only because of his new regime that he can hope to make an appearance in the Test series against India.
Commentators like Peter FitzSimons and Alan Jones have both praised the book – and whatever you might think of Jones’ political views, the former Australian rugby coach knows his sport.
Despite side and ill-informed comments that Watto was a quick, exploitative knock-off (hey, Cricinfo, if you can’t get basic facts right, what are you any good for?), this book was 18-months in the making and many hours revising and reviewing material – often with the help of Skype when Shane was in India – made sure this was Shane’s story, in his voice with the slightest non-Shane phrases removed. For instance, I had no idea that he never refers to the No 3 batsman as ‘first drop” but he soon put me right.
My contribution was to prod and probe and try to get to the heart of the man then set my ego aside and write it so that it was his personality that came across (rather than mine). The greatest compliment paid to the book was his sister Nicky telling me that when she was reading it she could hear his voice in her head.
One thing I did contribute was the idea of “drinks breaks” – little sections of insight where Shane explained everything from how reverse swing works (and how to get it) to the design of bats. At one point the publishers even thought of extracting them and publishing them separately but it was decided to keep the book together and provide better value for money.
If you like cricket and you don’t know what to do with the book tokens you got for Christmas, have a look at this. It is, quite simply, the best thing I have ever written. It’s not full of stats or lists. It’s a rare insight into the thinking of a top-class sportsman (and one of the most decent human beings I’ve ever met). For my part, considering I’d just written Snitch about the underworld in Kings Cross, I think Shane was pleasantly surprised that I knew the difference between a full toss and a happy ending.
You can buy Watto in most bookshops and online HERE.