By Matthew Shery at the Kia Oval
A relieved Shane Watson admitted fearing for his Test place spurred him on to ending a near-three-year century drought.
Watson’s spot in Australia’s XI was in some doubt ahead of the final Investec Ashes encounter at the Kia Oval following a lean spell.
But his penchants for failing to capitalise on good starts and being trapped lbw did not rear their heads today as Watson, batting at number three, struck an imperious 176.
That ensured Australia closed on an impressive 307 for four, a position that strengthens their hopes of a face-saving victory with England already 3-0 ahead in the series.
"Of course it's a big relief to be able to get a hundred; there's no doubt about that,” he admitted.
“But for me the most important thing has been being able to bat for a long period of time.
“I've worked very hard, and had some very good people helping me out over the last six weeks to be able to get myself into a place where I can give myself a chance to bat for a long period like that.
“It was a really good wicket, for us to be able to win the toss on that wicket...if we can put in a really big total in that first innings, certainly it's going to give us a good chance to win this Test match.”
The century puts an end to doubts over whether Watson will be part of the home line-up when cricket’s great rivals begin the reverse series in Brisbane on November 21.
“In the end I knew I had to score runs,” said Watson. “I’ve been in the top six batting throughout this whole series and I certainly haven’t scored the runs anywhere near what I wanted to score to help the team perform.
“I knew opening the batting it was going to be really important for me to be able to score runs and I wasn’t able to do that.
“So, look, I knew I had to score runs and that’s why I have been working so hard over the last month to be able to give myself the best chance to be able to put an innings together like I did today.
“Like you always do, you need things falling your way in an innings as well and I certainly had that today to be able to get me through certain stages of my innings.
“In the end, cricket is a performance-based game and if I’m not scoring runs or taking wickets I can’t expect to get picked.”
It was not all plain sailing for Watson, who received treatment on 91 after being hit on the neck by a Stuart Broad bumper.
“The bump is OK,” said Watson. “I've got a bit of a cork in my neck, more than anything. It certainly got me thinking apart from the nervous nineties and trying to get through that.
“I was thinking more about trying to get my neck around so my eyes could see the ball. It probably worked out well in the end.
England were buoyed late on as Stuart Broad ousted Watson with the help of a stunning catch by Kevin Pietersen in the deep.
While Australia are in a favourable position, James Anderson – who today passed Bob Willis as England’s second-most prolific five-day bowler – is confident the hosts can turn things around tomorrow.
“It was a tough day for us, but I thought we stuck at our task as a bowling group pretty well,” he said. “It was a lifeless pitch.
“Watson played out of his skin and made life difficult for us but we’ve had tough days in this series and come back strong, got ourselves back into games and that’s why we’re three-nil up.
“It has not always gone our way and we’ve had to claw it back in previous Tests. That is what we have got to do tomorrow.”