It’s time to play Watling as just a specialist batsman

Undeterred by the weather and harsh conditions that England often presents, the just-concluded Test series between New Zeland and England saw some enthralling cricket being played. A series that swung like a pendulum, saw a fitting end with New Zealand securing a win in the second Test to share the trophy with the hosts.

The man who made the difference for the Kiwis was Bradley-John Watling, who scored a brisk 120 from 163 balls in the side’s second innings at Headingley, that helped New Zealand set a target of 455. Watling walked into the record books becoming the first New Zealand batsman to score a Test hundred at Headingley. It’s never easy for a No. 6 to come out in the second innings of a high pressure do-or-die game and lift the side to a winning position. Watling hasn’t done it for the first time. He was the unsung hero of the mammoth 352-runs stand that he shared with McCullum against India at Basin Reserve in 2014. Staring an innings defeat, McCullum (302) and Watling (124) not only saved the Test for New Zealand but also ensured a series win.

Watling’s 124 from 367-balls against India reflected his temperament and class. He wrote the record books earlier this year with an unbeaten 365-runs stand with Kane Williamson against Sri Lanka. That effort too was in the second innings. Williamson scored 242 not out, while Watling remained unbeaten on 142. New Zealand came from a 135-run first innings deficit to beat Sri Lanka by 193 runs.

Watling is a wicketkeeper-batsman and usually bats at no. 7. With Luke Ronchi playing in the Headingley Test, Watling was promoted to no. 6 and a batsman with his skills, that’s should be his regular position. Ronchi had an impressive debut and struck a 70-ball 88 in the first innings and a quick 31 in the second. At 34, he may not have many years of cricket left in him, but he looks set to carry on for at least another two-to-three years. It’s time Black Caps should look to pass on the keeping responsibilities to Ronchi and unleash Watling’s full potential with the willow.

Not everyone is Adam Gilchrist to do justice to both roles — behind and in front of the stumps. Even Kiwi skipper McCullum’s batting benefited after giving up the gloves. New Zealand lost the opportunity of getting the best out of McCullum as a batsman as for a major part of his career. His primary job then was keeping wickets. This also led to McCullum suffering back problems. What’s lost is lost, but here’s the learning and New Zealand cricket should invest in Watling the batsman.

Watling, who averages a touch over 40 in Test cricket, started as an opening batsman and a part time wicket-keeper. He needs time to construct his innings and may express with the blade better if he gets to bat higher in the order. New Zealand’s batting order can wear a more solid look with Watling added to the ammunition consisting of Ross Taylor, Williamson and McCullum.

Playing Ronchi and Watling, both would mean missing out the services of someone as talented as Corey Anderson. But it’s a question the Black Caps need to ask themselves that where do their priorities lie. Three seamers, one spinner and the occasional use of Kane Williamson, wears a balanced bowling attack. This combination also allows them to go ahead with a potential run-machine.

 

(Suvajit Mustafi consumes cricket for lunch, fiction for dinner and munches numerous other snacks throughout the day. Yes, a jack of several trades , all Suvajit dreamt of was being India’s World Cup winning skipper but ended up being a sports writer, author, screenwriter, director, copywriter, graphic designer, sportsmarketer , strategist, entrepreneur,  philosopher and traveller. Donning so many hats, it’s cricket which gives him the ultimate high and where he finds solace. He can be followed at @RibsGully and rivu7)

More from this writer:

Steve Smith: 11 facts about the Australian run-machine

10 controversies from IPL 2015

Shane Warne, the enfant terrible now smokes on the golfing greens