Mumbai: Australia vice-captain Shane Watson is undeniably Australia's most valuable player since the retirements of greats Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer. Since October 2009, Watson, now a Test opener, averages 43.00 with the bat, and 24.33 with the ball - including three five-wicket hauls.
He was Australia's best bowler during last month's extraordinary Cape Town Test, the only top-order batsman who got runs during last year's Ashes trouncing (435 runs from five Tests), and for most, the player who will rescue Australian cricket from plunging even further in the rankings.
Watson, the vice-captain, is excited about being an integral part of Australia's new era. He is currently suffering from a calf injury in addition to a hamstring tear, but is almost certain to play the Boxing Day Test against India as an opening batsman. He spoke to MiD DAY about Australia's quest to regain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy that has been firmly in India's cabinet since November 2008, and the threats that pacemen Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma pose for the hosts.
Q: How do you rate the Indian side that's coming Down Under this month? Especially the bowlers.
A: The Indian team is always extremely strong. They have so many world-class batsmen all of the way down their batting order and they have some very high quality bowlers that the Australian conditions will suit. I really think that Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma especially will play a huge part in India's success this summer, so hopefully we can reduce their effectiveness.
Q: Following the incidents at Sydney in 2007-08, will the Indians get a warm reception this Australian summer?
A: What happened during the last tour was unfortunate, but a lot of time has passed since then. Australian fans will be really looking forward to a great summer of very exciting high quality cricket.
Q: How highly do you rate the India-Australia rivalry when compared to Australia's other rivalries in cricket?
A: The rivalry has continued to grow in a big way over the last 10-20 years. It is always hard to compare it to playing the old foe, England. But the quality of cricket that is always played between Australia and India has meant that it is a series that everyone - players or fans - really look forward to.
Q: Many feel that the inaugural Indian Premier League (in 2008) helped you regain your confidence. Immediately after that tournament, you scored a lot of runs in the West Indies.
A: It absolutely did. I was very lucky to be able to play an international cricket standard competition at a time when I wasn't in the Australian team. It was the first time for a while that I was able to get through a tournament injury-free as well. It was so much fun to be led so brilliantly well by Shane Warne to win the inaugural IPL and to be able to contribute the way I did. Everything seemed to continue to look up from there.
Q: There's a perception that the IPL has brought Indian and Australian players closer. There's also a perception that due to those friendships, the India-Australia rivalry would lose a bit of sting, that it won't be as fiercely contested as in 2007-08. Is there any truth to that?
A: The IPL has brought all players closer from all around the world, not just Australian and Indian players closer, which I believe is only a great thing. India vs Australia will always be a fiercely contested series as there will always be extremely high quality cricket played.
Q: Have you ever tried to clear the air with Gautam Gambhir after the incident in Delhi in 2008?
A: I have got the utmost respect for Gautam as a player and a tough competitor. In the end, time heals all wounds.
Q: How have you coped with the added responsibility - deputy to Michael Clarke?
A: It has been a lot of fun. Michael has been leading the team extremely well and I am trying to help complement him in everything he does. It is great to be a big part in the new era of Australian cricket.
Q: In August 2010, you revealed certain approaches that were made to you by Indian bookmakers. Do you feel such approaches are still being made even in the aftermath of the spot-fixing saga?
A: I really hope not. Especially after what happened in England, I would hope that people do realise that if you commit this crime and take away from the integrity of the game we all love so much, you will get caught and you will lose all the amazing things that cricket brings to your life.
Q: You started out as an out-and-out fast bowler who could clock close to 90 mph. At the time, in your early 20s, you were considered a lower order batsman, a slogger. Did you ever imagine such a transition - becoming an opener - especially in Tests?
A: I was actually more of a batsmen growing up as I had a lot of back injuries. But my opportunities with the Australian team when I first started was as a fast bowling allrounder, so this was how I really developed initially with the Australian team. Deep down I always believed that my batting was always my stronger part of my game, but to become an opener is something that I never thought would ever happen.
Q: Your straight drives are drawing comparison with Sachin Tendulkar's. Who would you credit for the turnaround in your batting prowess? You can't seem to put a foot wrong with your batting.
A: I will and should never be compared to Sachin in anyway. He is the master in every single way and I am just trying to be able to contribute consistently as well as I can. A big step for me will be turning my fifties into much bigger scores.
Q: You were told to give up your bowling in 2007. At the time, did you ever imagine making the side purely as a batsman? You were competing with Andrew Symonds for the lone allrounder's spot in the Test side.
A: I did think that my days could be numbered as an all-rounder, which would have meant that my opportunities with the Australian side would be significantly reduced. To have played as much cricket as I have over the last couple of years has been something I never expected at all, and I am certainly enjoying every minute.
Q: Of late, you've been taking a lot of Test wickets. Shane Warne feels that you must eventually go back to the middle-order. Do you see yourself finishing off as an opener?
A: Balancing my bowling workload with opening the batting is something that I need to continue to improve as I haven't been able to perform with bat and ball in Test matches consistently. I absolutely love opening the batting so it will be a really big decision if I am to move from the opening position.