Watling proves point with some tough play

Kapi-Mana News - - SPORT - JOSEPH RO­MANOS

I’ve had my eye on Bradley-John – BJ to ev­ery­one in cricket – Watling since he scored 378 in the 2008 Hamil­ton se­nior club fi­nal.

It’s pos­si­ble Watling’s is the high­est score in New Zealand se­nior club cricket. He bat­ted 10 hours for High School Old Boys in that How­den Cup fi­nal against East­ern Sub­urbs.

No mat­ter what the grade of cricket, a score of 378 takes some get­ting. Watling had shown his Brad­manesque qual­i­ties even ear­lier, scor­ing 220 for the Hamil­ton Boys’ High School first XI.

So it was ob­vi­ous he could bat a bit, and that con­cen­tra­tion wasn’t a prob­lem. Yet when he dipped his toe in first-class cricket for North­ern Dis­tricts in 2004, it was as a wick­et­keeper.

He was born in South Africa, but his fam­ily moved to New Zealand when he was 10. His hero, he said, was Jonty Rhodes.

I can see the like­ness. Rhodes was a su­perb field­s­man, light­ning fast. So is Watling.

At the crease, Rhodes scut­tled rapidly be­tween the wick­ets and placed the ball. So does Watling. Rhodes was never a big hit­ter, and that’s not Watling’s game, ei­ther.

The Hamil­ton man, tu­tored for many years by the canny Chris Kuggeleijn, hasn’t had the eas­i­est path in es­tab­lish­ing his wick­et­keep­ing test spot.

He made his test de­but – as a spe­cial­ist bats­man – against Pak­istan in Napier in 2009, when he scored a promis­ing 60 not out.

But he has had to jos­tle with sev­eral wick­et­keep­ers in re­cent years, in­clud­ing Bren­don McCul­lum, Reese Young, Gareth Hop­kins and Kruger van Wyk, to ce­ment his test spot. Even now trans­planted Aus­tralian Luke Ronchi is wait­ing in the wings.

Watling showed his class by scor­ing a maiden test cen­tury against Zim­babwe in Napier last year, but much more im­pres­sive was his bat­ting against the fire of Steyn, Morkel and Phi­lan­der in South Africa a cou­ple of months ago. He showed he had the cou- rage and the tech­nique to bat for long pe­ri­ods against good bowlers. He did so again at the Basin Re­serve over the week­end, bat­ting three hours for 60 against An­der­son, Finn, Broad and Pane­sar and hold­ing to­gether a fal­ter­ing New Zealand in­nings.

New Zealand’s test wick­et­keep­ers have gen­er­ally been handy bats­men, right back to Ken James and Eric Tindill be­fore World War II.

Af­ter­wards Frank Mooney, Ar­tie Dick, Ken Wadsworth, War­ren Lees and Ian Smith contributed in­creas­ingly well. Into the 1990s, Adam Parore was even good enough to have the odd game as a spe­cial­ist bats­man. McCul­lum has been even bet­ter. Watling isn’t like McCul­lum. He isn’t a dasher. He doesn’t look im­pa­tient, doesn’t have to be for­ever on the at­tack.

But in his own way he may end up be­ing just as valu­able a bats­man, with his sound tech­nique and calm tem­per­a­ment. He’s only 27, so could have a decade of test cricket ahead of him.

He may be one of the play­ers a resur­gent New Zealand team is built around over the next few years.

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