Many around the world went into overdrive when Smith, Warner and Cameron Bancroft were at the centre of a ball tampering incident that shocked the cricket world in Cape Town earlier this year.
Pundits, fans and players – even the Australian Prime Minister – called for the harshest possible penalties against the trio.
But the hero of the Chennai Super Kings IPL final victory just a few days ago, says that they have suffered enough – or they will have once they have served out their 12 month bans.
“There’s no question they made a huge error of judgement at that moment of time, under the pressure of trying to win a test match, and they are certainly paying for their mistakes in a really big way,” said Watson at a media conference in Dubai on Tuesday to announce him as the icon player for the new Team Karachians in the UAE T10 League.
“12 months suspensions and no leadership for two years for Steve Smith, and no leadership for Davey Warner for the rest of his career, is a huge price to pay for a massive error of judgement,” Watson continued.
“And they’ll certainly need to be digging deep in their soul to be able to get through this till they play again.”
“But look it’s going to be a challenging time for Australian cricket and for those guys it’s a big re-building phase, not just from a playing point of view but from a cultural point of view as well.
“When teams, when individuals hit rock bottom that is one of the biggest learning curves you have in your life and I’m sure they’ll be making the most of that.”
When one journalist then suggested that the penalties should have been harsher and compared Smith and Warner to convicted match fixer Mohammed Amir, the hackles started to rise in the measured 36-year-old.
“They’ve paid their price,” he answered firmly. “A 12 month ban for tampering with the ball, which has happened before a lot of times in the past – and guys haven’t been suspended for 12 months.”
“They certainly weren’t match fixing. Normally the ban is only a test match or something like that when people do this, so a 12 month penalty is a big price to pay.”
This last comment was perhaps a sly dig at CSK team mate Faf du Plessis who received just one match ban for the infamous “mint gate” in 2016.
Watson knows what it like to be on the wrong side of authority. Back in 2014 the then Australain vice-captain suddenly departed from the Indian tour after he and three other players were axed for the Third test by then coach Mickey Arthur for another gate, this one to do with homework.
May believe this led to his decision, perhaps prematurely, to retire from international cricket in 2016, but two years on Watson is in the best form of his life – finishing in the top five batsmen in the IPL, PSL and Big Bash League in the 2017-18 season.
“To be honest the last six months of me playing from the Big Bash to the PSL to the IPL – it’s as good as I’ve hit the ball for a long time.”
“And I was fortunate enough that it culminated in me being able to do that (a match winning 117* off 57 balls) in an IPL final.
“Especially for a great franchise like the Chennai Super Kings, to pick me up at this stage of my career and then show the faith in me that MS Dhoni did, it was very special to be able to repay him like that.”
Though Watson admits that he was getting worried when he had failed to score for his first ten balls in the final.
“I was starting to worry,” he says. “After the first over of Bhuvneshwar (Kumar) bowling like he does it’s hard to score, when he’s swinging the ball both ways at decent speed.”
“But after Faf got out at a time when I should really have got going, at that moment in time I started to feel bad.
“At that moment of time I was just trying to get up to a run a ball as a starting point. More so to save face a little bit, to know I’ve got a run a ball and haven’t totally screwed things up for my team.
“But its amazing things can turn around so quickly in T20 and T10 – especially at a place like Mumbai in the Wankhede stadium.
“It’s not the biggest ground, it’s a very good wicket as well so you can score pretty quickly.”
Now Watson’s next challenge is the T10 league here in the UAE, starting on November 29, but if his form continues the way he is batting currently – then save to say another trophy is on the way.
Know more about Sport360 Application