Watling on the mend and keen to test himself
BJ Watling’s journey back to the Black Caps’ test side is gathering momentum with his troublesome left hip finally showing signs of improvement.
The 32-year-old will take another step towards a return for the two-test series against England when he keeps for Northern Districts in their Plunket Shield match against Auckland at Eden Park’s outer oval, starting tomorrow.
Exactly three weeks on, he hopes he’ll be at Eden Park’s main ground on March 22 for the first day of the opening test, the inaugural day-night test in New Zealand.
Watling injured his hip during the warmups of the first Plunket Shield match of the season in October and has been restricted to batting in domestic cricket since.
He was forced out of December’s two tests against the West Indies, relinquishing the gloves to debutant Tom Blundell. Wellington’s Blundell seized the opportunity at his Basin Reserve home ground in the opening test, hitting an unbeaten 107.
Watling, who has played 52 tests since 2009, has two Plunket Shield matches to prove his form and fitness to Black Caps coach Mike Hesson and chief selector Gavin Larsen before the test squad is confirmed.
He kept for the first time this summer in ND’s 50-over Ford Trophy minor semifinal against Canterbury on February 17 and got through unscathed.
Standing behind the stumps for long sessions during four-day matches will present a sterner challenge, but he is optimistic his body could handle it.
‘‘I’m very confident. In 50-overs, it was fine. I’ve been keeping for the last eight weeks at training and making sure I’ve been loading it up as well.
‘‘The big test will be getting through 96 overs [in a day] of first- class cricket and backing it up each day of course. That will be my major concern.’’
Watling described the injury as among the most frustrating of his career. He felt the most pain when making squatting movements and said it took longer than expected to heal.
It didn’t affect his batting too much, but suffered discomfort when performing pull or sweep shots.
‘‘If I was down squatting and trying to rotate quite often [while keeping] it would shoot through or the nerve would pinch and the pain would come from there. The nerves shoot through the hip every time I get in a position of flex and it wasn’t ideal.’’
He got through three Plunket Shield matches before Christmas, scoring 193 runs from six innings at 32. His Ford Trophy form has been encouraging, notching 304 runs at 38 from eight bats.
Watling will bat five or six for ND in the Plunket Shield and is eager for time in the middle.
With one-day and T20 cricket dominating the Black Caps’ schedule, Watling’s last test was almost a year ago against South Africa in Hamilton.
Renowned for digging New Zealand out of trouble with the bat at No 7 in tests, Watling’s temperament and experience appeal against an England attack, which includes veteran pace bowlers Stu- art Broad and Jimmy Anderson. He averages 38 in tests and has scored six centuries.
‘‘I’m itching to get back out there. A couple of big matches against England is very exciting. They’re a team we probably don’t beat too often [in tests], so it will be a big test for us.
‘‘They’re a very good test outfit. It’s always fun playing against them.’’
Despite his hip issues, the longform specialist was keen to remain in test cricket as long as possible. Following the England series, New Zealand won’t wear white clothing again until a three-test series against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates in November.
Watling was pleased that the International Cricket Council (ICC) had adopted a new test championship format, starting in July 2019, which will create added intrigue for the game.
‘‘I think it will bring a bit of importance to test cricket and each game will have its own significance.’’
BJ Watling is eager to prove his form and fitness wicketkeeping for Northern Districts as the two-match English test series approaches.