Opinion: Watson and Clarke – friendly enemies

Australia

There is still a future between Michael Clarke and Shane Watson. It may not involve hugs, cuddles and high fives, though, writes Tim Ellis.

Something weird has been happening during this Ashes series. It's not that Australia are losing. Nor is it that Mickey Arthur has been trying to shout foul play while the Aussies were losing.

What is really quite unsettling is how Michael Clarke and Shane Watson have been talking. They have been seen standing together at slip being civil. Sometimes, they have appeared on the balcony with no clear or present danger of a punch-up. They have even been caught smiling together.

They are supposed to hate each other. Well, that is the media construct based on 'what we know'. If we read it enough times, it will become the truth. Maybe it is the truth. The former headmaster of the Australian squad, Arthur indicated that Watson was a cancer in the team.

Arthur says his relationship with the players was "outstanding" apart from Watson. Those who shout loudest often try to save face. 'Outstanding' is not the word on anybody's lips in relation to the South African's tenure.

Fallouts tend to burst the bubble of team unity artificially created in sporting environments. Remember Kevin Pietersen's reintegration into the England team after the fallout last year? As James Anderson said, it made Pietersen sound like an offender released back into the community.

Look at Wayne Rooney's disaffection with Manchester United. At least Pietersen has a voice and has expressed himself publicly, however selfish or misguided that was. You can't always keep dirty laundry from blowing over the fence. Humans are fallible.

The two players were not so much chalk and cheese – more like fire and petrol. Thankfully, any incendiary duties have been passed to David Warner's mouth. Perhaps the skipper is saving his fight over the singing of the team song as he did with Simon Katich in 2009. You wonder whether this current team would know the words.

After the latest tour match at Northampton, Watson revealed: "I've been having a chat to Michael over the last week especially about the way that I'm getting out, lbw at the moment. I'm getting a lot of different information about the ways that I can try to get that right. Michael jogged my memory of a few things that I was doing a couple of years ago."

Some conspiracy theorists might see this as a blatant PR stunt to paint a picture that the two are not at constant loggerheads. A less cynical take is that it is quite possible somebody is being helpful to his team-mate.

It is has been a gripping sub-plot within the series to see the respective faces of captain and former vice-captain. When Watson trapped Pietersen in front at Old Trafford on 63, Clarke did not review the decision. Seconds later, the Australian balcony were giving the out sign. The bowler's face was a picture. It is one of the few moments Watson's constant, pained expression metamorphosed into gallows humour.

The all-rounder has used up a fair few reviews when batting himself on stone dead lbws. That has probably not endeared him to many in the dressing room and only adds to the notion that he is a selfish, mechanical cricketer who has a 'why me?' placard hanging around his neck. He could help himself a bit in the popularity stakes.

There is still a future between Michael Clarke and Shane Watson. It may not be one that involves hugs, cuddles and high fives, but since when does everybody in a cricket team have to like each other?

<b>Tim Ellis</b>

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