BJ Watling’s 124 helped Brendon McCullum rescue New Zealand in the second Test against India at Wellington © Getty Images
Since his Test debut against Pakistan at Napier in 2009-10, BJ Watling has been rated highly by New Zealand cricket faithfuls. However, that defining knock, one that justified those beliefs, was missing from his resume. The hundred he essayed against India in the second Test of the series at Wellington could propel him into the limelight. Bharath Ramaraj writes about Watling’s effort.
As BJ Watling strode to the middle to join his captain Brendon McCullum against India in the second Test at Basin Reserve, Wellington, there didn’t seem to be any hope of finding an escape route through the turbulent waters. After all, the on-song Indian bowlers had taken five wickets in the second innings and looked all set to trump New Zealand and draw the Test series 1-1.
However, brick-by-brick and with a reservoir of patience, Watling serenely and untroubled went about his job of grinding the Indian bowlers to dust. With McCullum mixing caution with calculated pyrotechnics at the other end, he found the perfect partner, and at the close of Day Four, their miraculous rearguard action had turned the tables on India.
McCullum and Watling’s names now would be chronicled in the annals of the game with an indelible ink. In fact, the record-breaking partnership rekindled memories of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman’s effort in the famous Kolkata Test in 2001 where they dazed the Australian bowlers. Yes, there is a vast difference in the quality of attacks on view, but the effect of this partnership was similar.
As McCullum deservedly gets all the thunderous applause for his timeless composition, one has to commend Watling too for biding his time and eschewing through all those risky shots that could have brought his downfall. Watling’s simple method lacked the frills and fizz of McCullum, but at the same time, he was mighty effective.
He struck to the old adage of showcasing shrewd judgment outside the off-stump and made the bowlers bowl to him. Occasionally, when Ravindra Jadeja bowled a touch wide, he would play late to beat the fielders with needlepoint precision backward of square. The occasional square-cut or drive off the seamer kept the scoreboard ticking. It was an innings not cut out for the masses, but for New Zealand cricket, it counts as a treasured gem.
The wicketkeeper-batsman who replaced the misfiring Kruger Van Wyk in 2012 has done an excellent job for New Zealand. As a wicketkeeper, he is as safe as a house and with the willow, heplays with academic perfection. Unfortunately, ever since he impressed one-and-all with his half-century against Pakistan on Test debut, he seemed to have gone under the radar. With this magic tale-like partnership he stitched with McCullum against India hopefully, he would get his due.
Since the retirement of ever-reliable Andrew Jones in the 1990s, New Zealand have struggled to find a batsman who can play with dour fortitude and blunt the opposition attack into submission. In BJ Watling, they may have found someone who can turn out to be the fulcrum of New Zealand’s middle and lower-order. With players like Watling around, New Zealand cricket is certainly on the upswing!
((Bharath Ramaraj, an MBA in marketing, eats, drinks and sleeps cricket. He has played at school and college-level, and now channelises his passion for the game by writing about it)