By David Leggat
No one could accuse BJ Watling of obsessing over his Test cricket milestones.
He’s very much from the school which simply maintains longevity in the game can bring significant achievements.
So it was last summer when the Northern Districts wicketkeeper became the BLACKCAPS record-holder for Test dismissals.
His tally as a specialist keeper now stands at 214 - 206 catches and eight stumpings, although he has taken 224 altogether - all achieved at an impressive rate of 2.057 per Test.
No other New Zealand keeper can top Watling’s Test average of two catches per innings, Adam Parore being the closest at 1.661 for his 201 in 78 tests.
Twice he’s taken nine dismissals in a Test, twice taken six in an innings and six times, more than any other New Zealand keeper, he has nabbed five dismissals in a Test innings.
‘’You’re obviously proud of what you achieve and if you play enough games then good things can happen,’’ he said as he eyed a seven-test programme for the BLACKCAPS this season.
‘’Certainly I don’t target any milestones, I don’t really target anything other than trying to play each test and do the best in each situation that’s presented – and that’s the way I’ve seen it since day one really. I don’t look too far ahead.’’
Back on December 11, 2009 Watling had his day one for the BLACKCAPS, opening the batting against Pakistan at Napier’s McLean Park, making 18 and 60 not out. That suggested he would become a real batting asset for the BLACKCAPS as he also moved to become the test wicketkeeper to follow Brendon McCullum.
His batting has been a significant contributor to the BLACKCAPS.
He has seven Test hundreds, and only eight players have scored more in Tests for the country.
His average of 38.57 is notable, considering Watling usually bats at No 7, obviously with the lower order for company and of those wicketkeepers with a 2000 run/100 dismissal double, only seven can top Watling’s mark of 3279 runs and 224 victims. Among active test keepers he has effected the most dismissals in Tests.
Watling is a batsmen who thrives on adversity.
Remember his 352-run stand with McCullum to save the Test, and win the series against India at the Basin Reserve in 2014? Watling’s share of that was 124.
Nine months later his 142 not out at the same venue was part of a then-world record 365-run sixth-wicket stand with Kane Williamson. Those two partnerships remain the second and third highest stands for the sixth wicket in Test history.
An unbeaten 105 laid the platform, along with a century from team mate Tom Latham, for an innings victory in Colombo last August, and the BLACKCAPS first ICC World Test Championship points.
BJ Watling is the first NZ keeper to score a test century batting at number 6. Notable because it passes the 70-year-old record of 93 by John Reid at The Oval in 1949 #SLvNZ— Francis Payne (@FPayne100) August 26, 2019
So how does Watling, now 34 but still fit as a flea, define his role within the team? After all, he has the best view in the field and is captain Williamson’s most important eyes out in the middle.
‘’Basically it’s to catch every ball that comes your way and not make a mistake,’’ he said.
‘’You get a good sight of what’s going on in terms of the pace off the wicket, turn and bounce and you’re trying to give as much feedback to the key people who need that.
‘’It’s about what the keeper gets to see and feel off the wicket, where fielders don’t get that.’’
But Watling quipped that ‘’I’m definitely not the eyes for the reviews’’.
New Zealand sit second on Test rankings, behind only India and Watling likes to think New Zealand are rated tough opponents on the international stage.
‘’I think we’ll be judged over the next seven matches. That’ll show how we’ve grown. Our biggest test is definitely the next few months.’’
And that includes a bumper series in Australia, which not only includes a second day/night Test, in Perth, but also first visits for tests to the hallowed Melbourne Cricket Ground and Sydney Cricket Ground for 34 and 32 years respectively.
So, including the new Perth stadium, there are three new Test venues for New Zealand’s players to experience around Christmas and New Year.
Watling is hoping to have two-year-old son Hudson with him on the MCG on Christmas Day after training.
‘’I think that would be a pretty cool experience. The buzz is still there but in a different way.
‘’You slowly realise there’s more important things out there. (Hudson) is a game changer so things are a little different to when I started.’’