Many of the world's leading cricketers are packing their bags at present, but none quite on the scale of Shane Watson
. Like his Rajasthan Royals team-mates, Watson is preparing to fly to South Africa to defend the IPL crown won in dramatic circumstances last year. But, equally as pressing, Watson is in the process of relocating from Brisbane to Sydney, where he hopes a change of scenery will also lead to a change of cricketing fortune.
Continuity is a luxury Watson has seldom been afforded since his international debut in 2002. Flashes of brilliance have invariably been followed by periods of injury, resulting in a career spent as much in transition as the spotlight.
Never was that spotlight brighter than last year, when Watson - picked up by Rajasthan for a relatively modest $US125,000 in the second auction of 2008 - was named player of the inaugural IPL. The Queensland allrounder was pivotal to Rajasthan's title push, finishing fourth in the tournament for runs (472 at 47.20 with a powerful strike-rate of 151.76) and wickets (17 at 22.52), and was rewarded with an immediate recall to the Australian one-day side for the tour of the Caribbean.
But then came injury. Following a strong Test tour of India, Watson returned to Australia full of hope and optimism, only to be struck down by back stress fractures. Forced to the sidelines for the eagerly anticipated Test series against South Africa, Watson made his comeback in the final few weeks of Queensland's season, and then only as a batsman. A return to bowling remains weeks away.
And, so, Watson has been left to plot yet another ascent from base camp. The move to NSW, born out of a desire to live closer to his partner, will be symbolic only if injuries remain at bay. But the IPL represents an immediate opportunity to again pit himself against the world's leading players, and move a step closer to realising his ultimate goal: a long, uninterrupted run at international level.
"The IPL was one of the most amazing experiences I've ever had in my life," Watson told Cricinfo. "To be involved in something brand new and on such a grand scale might be something I'll never have the chance to do again. And to do as well as I did at what was a pivotal moment in my career made it even more special. To be able to help Rajasthan to the title and then to catch the attention of the Australian selectors again was fantastic.
"I'm not exactly sure how it will play out this year. I've had some chats with [Rajasthan coaches] Warney and Darren Berry. The last time we talked about me playing as a batsman, but I'm not sure if anything has changed in their thinking since then. Graeme Smith will be available, so there will be competition for spots with so many international batsmen around. I'll hopefully get a spot as a batsman in the first half of the tournament. It will be interesting to see how they balance it."
Though Rajasthan will be denied Watson's bowling services for the opening rounds of the tournament, the defending champions could be in for a surprise when the ball is finally thrown his way in May. Watson has been working with Dennis Lillee and Troy Cooley over the past few months in a bid to improve his swing bowling. The early signs, he says, are promising.
"The one good side of having time away from playing is that it gives you an opportunity to work on different parts of your game," Watson said. "Last year, I used the injury time to work on some technical aspects of my batting and I was really pleased with what I came up with. And the opportunity to work with Truck [Cooley] and Dennis on my bowling this time has been great.
"It's progressing really well. I've been restricted in what I've done so far, but will build up that workload during the IPL. Once I get the repetition going I'm confident that I will be able to achieve that goal of being able to swing the ball on a consistent basis. In the first week of May I should be close to full capacity again. I'll be playing as a batsman for the first few weeks."
Beyond the IPL, the Ashes looms large on Watson's to-do list for 2009. Three years ago, the allrounder was all but guaranteed the No. 6 position in the Australian batting order for the first Ashes Test at the Gabba, but was ruled out days before the match with a hamstring injury that opened the door for Andrew Symonds.
The competition will be even greater this time around - incumbent allrounders Marcus North and Andrew McDonald both played important roles in Australia's recent Test series victory in South Africa - and Watson is open to the idea of a county stint to enhance his selection prospects. Should that eventuate, a reignition of the controversy that surrounded Stuart Clark's sigining with Kent is all but assured.
"It is obviously more difficult now with the new restrictions on overseas players," he said. "If I went over it would not be to play a huge amount of cricket. County cricket is fun, but it is definitely a hard slog and there's no way you want to be burning out this year. Six or seven weeks would be good, but we'll see what happens."