Australian all-rounder Watson also bats for charity and literacy

The Australia all-rounder is part of an initiative that could see five millions rupees raised to help establish libraries that provide books to underprivileged children.

Australian batsman Shane Watson poses for phototographers after addressing a press conference in Bangalore on March 8, 2011. Australia is in Bangalore preparing for the next. William West / AFP
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BANGALORE // The first thing that strikes you about Shane Watson, the Australia all-rounder, is his imposing physique.

The muscular opener for the world champions in one-day cricket has the torso of an Australia rules footballer and has been dubbed "Tarzan" in certain circles. Yet there is far more to him than initially meets the eye.

For one, Watson is the International Cricket Council (ICC) ambassador for Room to Read, an organisation that "seeks to transform the lives of millions of children in developing countries by focusing on literacy and gender equality in education".



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John Wood, the founder, quit his job with Microsoft and set forth in a new direction after a trip to Nepal where he saw tremendous enthusiasm for learning, but very little by way of resources.

During the World Cup, Room to Read has teamed up with the ICC and Reliance Life Insurance to bring about "Boundaries for Books" — with 25,000 Indian rupees (Dh2,020) contributed for every six hit during the competition. As much as five million rupees could be raised as a result.

The funds will help Room to Read establish libraries that provide books in the local language and English to underprivileged children. Each six can ensure that at least 30 children get access to fully functional libraries with books and trained teachers.

On Monday afternoon, in between his preparations for Australia's final two group games, Watson spoke of his interest in the project. "Reading is the most important skill you can have," he said. "It helps your development as a person in so many ways."

At a recent Room to Read event in Sydney, an individual bid A$8,500 (Dh30,7680 to have a one-on-one coaching session with him. That money alone funds a library for 200 children for three years and also provides 14 girls in Asia with a one-year education scholarship.

"It starts with school, where you start to learn, but it goes beyond that," Watson said. "Reading gives you a good start in life."

Watson said that he reads a lot of autobiographies. "I find that it's helped me to learn from other people - their experiences and how they coped with adverse situations," he said

When children see their heroes make it big through hitting sixes and taking wickets, what should be their incentive to sit down and read? "It's an important part of my life because it gives me better perspective," said Watson.

"Without reading, it's that much harder to achieve your goals. People who don't have the opportunity can get stuck in a certain environment."

For Watson, the reading adventure began at the Australian Cricket Academy in Adelaide as a teenager. The first book to stir him was Alan Davidson's autobiography, Fifteen Paces. "It had a big impact on me," he said. "He was an all-rounder and that was something I wanted to be."

As focused as he is on World Cup glory, Watson insists that the game and those that play it have a greater responsibility.

"I think it's a great initiative from the ICC," he said. "The World Cup gets tremendous exposure and is widely watched. Already, more than 5,000 children have gained access to reading materials on the subcontinent."

As part of the campaign, Watson conducted fielding drills for children in Colombo earlier in the competition. "Not everyone is as lucky as you or me," he said. "It was great to see how it has touched their lives. The highlight was seeing the smiles on their faces. Quite a few of them love cricket as well, and had plenty to say about it!"

He rates Andre Agassi's Open as his favourite book, and does not rule out the possibility of writing one himself one day. "It would probably be an autobiography, detailing my experiences, both good and bad," he said. "It's not been plain sailing for me, in any way, and if someone can learn from that, that would be great."

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