Watling on the mend and keen to test him­self

Marlborough Express - - SPORT - BREN­DON EGAN

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-

"The big test will be get­ting through 96 overs [in a day] of first-class cricket and back­ing it up each day. That will be my ma­jor con­cern." BJ Watling

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.’’

PHOTO: GETTY IM­AGES

BJ Watling is ea­ger to prove his form and fit­ness wick­et­keep­ing for North­ern Districts as the two-match English test se­ries ap­proaches.

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