Watling proves point with some tough play
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.