Shane Watson taunted England after the Australia batsman punished their selection gamble with a superb 176 on the first day of the fifth Test at The Oval in London on Wednesday.
Watson has endured a dismal series that saw him lampooned for repeatedly getting out leg before wicket, but the all-rounder at least partially redeemed himself as he put England debutants Chris Woakes and Simon Kerrigan to the sword in south London.
With the Ashes already retained, England made the surprise decision to experiment with their lineup, bringing in Warwickshire all-rounder Woakes for Jonny Bairstow and Lancashire left-arm spinner Kerrigan for the injured Tim Bresnan.
It had been widely anticipated Surrey pace bowler Chris Tremlett would return on his home ground after impressing in the 2010-2011 Ashes series in Australia, but instead Woakes and Kerrigan endured a miserable, wicketless day as Australia piled up 307-4.
Asked if he was shocked to see England’s changes, Watson said: “Yeah, I was actually. I was expecting Tremlett to play to be honest.”
“He had quite a lot of success against us in the last series in Australia. He bowled beautifully in the Tests he played,” Watson said. “I was certainly a bit happier to face Woakes and Kerrigan than a guy [Tremlett] who is 6 foot, 8 inches [2.03m] and sends balls bouncing around your face. I’m certainly not complaining.”
“You could definitely sense he [Kerrigan] was very nervous in those first couple of overs,” he said. “There’s no doubt it’s extremely nerve-wracking, especially if someone tries to get after you in your first Ashes Test. You are pretty much exposed out there and you have to try to find a way through it. He will certainly learn from it.”
In contrast to the woes of England’s new boys, Watson’s innings was a cathartic moment after his struggles over the previous four Tests.
The 32-year-old’s third Test century was his first in 25 matches and 48 innings since his previous best of 126 against India in Mohali in October 2010.
Watson, playing his 46th Test, revealed he had been through an emotional time while trying to battle his way out of the slump.
“I have had a lot of soul-searching over this last month, more than at any time in my career,” he said. “Of course, it’s a big relief to get a hundred, no doubt about that, but for me the most important thing has been trying to bat for a long period and trying to stop getting out the same way. I’ve worked very hard and had some good people helping me get into a place where I can bat like that. To bat for a long period and to do that in the Ashes was nice.”
Although Watson was happy with his efforts on Wednesday, he conceded it was only a small consolation after letting the team down earlier in the series.
“I haven’t scored anywhere near the runs needed to help the team. I didn’t score enough when I opened,” he said. “It’s only a consolation because the most important time was the first three Tests. I knew how important it was to score runs as a senior player and I wasn’t able to do it. I’ve been asking myself a lot of questions about where I’m at as a cricketer. It’s nice to be able to put it together today, but not so nice that it’s taken so long.”
Meanwhile, England pace bowler James Anderson insisted his Lancashire teammate Kerrigan could still bounce back from his nightmare start.