It is almost a misconception to call cricket a team sport, because it is individualistic in its essence. Once the game starts it becomes a personal conflict between the batsman and the bowler and the fielders act as the supporting cast.
But it is only natural that the glittering performances with several centuries or wickets in their name promote fans to stardom. Once enough time has passed, it will be Virat Kohli and Steve Smith whose names will be etched more deeply in the memory of Cricket Afikanodo.
On the other hand, there are a number of players who seem to be flying under the radar even after participating for the team. These are not exactly quick for players, although they often come under pressure with significant contributions.
In this series, we look at some of these inferior and obsolete men whose contributions deserve more recognition than they currently do. BJ Watling of New Zealand is our man in the focus below.
Age – 34
Test – 70
Run – 3658
Average – 38,50
Century – 8
Born in Durban, South Africa, Watling immigrated to New Zealand at the age of 10 before representing the Blackcaps at the 2004 ICC U-19 World Cup. Conducted as an opener and wicketkeeper in domestic cricket, Watling came as the first player expert batsman in the New Zealand Test team.
Along with Brendon McCullum donating gloves for the Kiwis, Watling was drafted as a purely expert batsman to appear in his first six Tests. Despite making 60 impressive Test debuts against Pakistan in 2009, he took some time for the right-handers to establish a lasting claim in the red team. In fact, he played only eight Tests for New Zealand in four years.
McCullum’s decision to leave the gloves in 2010 proved to be a catalyst for Watling’s career, which began in late 2012. An unbeaten ton against Zimbabwe at McLean Park meant he was the mainstay of the Kiwis’ move forward. Since then he has quietly established himself as one of the most reliable wicketkeeper-batsmen in the Test format and has played a number of scheduled knockouts in the presence of 70.
The man who rarely makes headlines, Watling’s defining feature is the ability to tear it to pieces in the middle of the pitch. Although he may not be the biggest hitter, Watling achieved his success by pushing the ball into the gap and scampering across efficient singles and doubles.
As a batsman he can wash the bowling attack with patience and perseverance. Able to spend a long time in the middle of the crease, Watling is the perfect complement to team up with more adventurous and free-flowing batsmen. While the likes of McCullum, Ken Williamson and Ross Taylor have shed much light on gaining recognition as one of New Zealand’s best Test cricketers, Watling has played an admirable role in a number of rearguard partnerships.
He has rescued the Kiwis from the race many times after shouting for the top-order at No. or at number in the batting order. The thing that makes him tick is that he can remove all the pressure at one end, while his ability to rotate the strike continuously means the bowlers are not allowed to get the upper hand.
His cricketing prowess has been enlightened since his debut in New Zealand, and he has proven to be a successor to the fluent McCallum in contrast.
“BJ is fast becoming my favorite cricketer. The strength of his character and his fighting qualities. The man never complains, takes a job, goes out there and holds a hundred overs and goes out and tries to save a Test match for his country by batting for seven hours, “McCullum once said of Watling.
This is the right assessment for a person who has registered seven tons as a nominated wicketkeeper for New Zealand. Only Adam Gilchrist, Andy Flower and Les Ames have scored more Test centuries as wicketkeepers for their respective teams.
Performance is defined
205 vs England, Mount Manganui (2019)
After England finally scored 353 in the first innings, New Zealand seemed to be back in the pavilion with Williamson at 127-4. Watling, however, proved to be a crack for visitors in the innings where he became the first Kiwi wicketkeeper to slam a double ton in the Tests.
A match-winning seventh-wicket stand of 266 paired with Mitchell Santner at the crease 473-ball marathon Vigil. The huge stand game came to a head, with New Zealand winning the innings by a total of 615 runs.
105 vs Sri Lanka, Colombo (2019)
With New Zealand trailing 0-1 in the two-match series, the final Test in Colombo put pressure on the spectators. After beating Sri Lanka by 244 runs in the first innings, the Kiwis started losing by 12 g-4.
Watling once registered a great unbeaten ton and marched to bring back the tide to the grace of the audience. Leaving the supporting performances to perfection, he put New Zealand ahead with important partnerships together in Tom Latham and Colin de Grandhome.
This could be another match-winning performance as the Kiwis equaled the series with an innings win.
142 vs Sri Lanka, Wellington (2015)
After being bowled out for 221 in the first innings, New Zealand lowered the barrel as Sri Lanka took a 13-run lead in Wellington. The matches intensified after the hosts went down to 159-5 in the second innings, with Sri Lanka losing a rare victory to New Zealand.
However, Watling again performed an impressive rearguard operation to come to the rescue of his side. With an unbeaten stand of 3,365 for the sixth wicket with Williamson, Watling played a determined hand in the 142-run innings.
Williamson showed the value of his curiosity strategy in getting the wicketkeeper New Zealand on the road to an innings victory on the way to the double ton.
124 vs India, Wellington (2014)
New Zealand’s 40-run win in Auckland put them 1-0 up in the two-match series, but the Indians took the storm in the final Test in Wellington. The hosts saw India take a 246-run lead in the first innings and the situation went from bad to worse in the second innings.
Zaheer Khan’s early Salvo reduced the Kiwis to 94-5 in the second innings, before Watling went to save the day again. Brandon McCullum’s self-proclaimed triple century could eventually take all the deception, although it was Watling’s determined performance at the other end that enriched the New Zealand captain.
He ruined the Indian attack in an innings of 3 367 balls to let McCullum go after bowling at the other end. The 352-run stand of these two allowed the host to draw and spread the series in the process.
Learn more about the Sport 360 app