Andrew Alderson

Andrew Alderson is a sport writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Keeping on in testing times

One-test Black Caps keeper B-J Watling is sensibly back playing provincial cricket, writes Andrew Alderson.

B-J Watling.  Photo / NZPA
B-J Watling. Photo / NZPA

B-J Watling risks becoming the Rodney Redmond of wicket-keepers. Redmond famously played one test match as an opening batsman in February 1973 where he scored 107 and 56 against Pakistan but never played for New Zealand again after losing form on the subsequent tour to England.

Watling has already played eight tests but only one of them as a wicketkeeper - against Zimbabwe in January where he scored a maiden century, took four catches when the visitors were bowled out twice in a day and conceded just four byes when a loose Trent Boult delivery skewed down leg in the penultimate over. Watling hasn't kept for New Zealand in the four test matches since.

The move to have Watling keep was a triumph for then-coach John Wright's selection whims. He reasoned Watling would bolster the middle order batting at No7 - especially as a trained opener against any second new ball - and thought him useful with the gloves from provincial action he had seen.

There is little doubt Watling the batsman was elegant to watch. Using his high left elbow, he stroked the ball crisply in the extra cover-backward point arc and was a wall in defence.

However, a hip injury ahead of the South Africa series, solid performances by rival Kruger van Wyk and a struggle opening in one test against the West Indies has seen Watling banished from the test line-up. He is only in the limited overs squad to tour Sri Lanka later this month.

He will not stay for the two tests. Instead, he will return for Northern Districts' Plunket Shield defence; a sensible decision rather than having him lingering on the periphery of the Black Caps getting no matches, as happened at the recent World T20. Watling was the only squad member not to play.

ND coach Grant Bradburn is keen to cooperate with the selection panel as to where they see Watling fitting best in test cricket. He is comfortable persevering with him as a first-class gloveman as he seeks a permanent replacement for the retired Peter McGlashan. ND is also contemplating an overseas keeping option for the Plunket Shield as insurance in case Watling gets called up to play South Africa or England over summer.

"That hip joint injury was cruel timing," Bradburn says. "It cost him an opportunity to permanently stake his claim. Kruger [van Wyk] took his chance and you've got to respect that.

"B-J hasn't had a lot of cricket of late and obviously they've chosen to have him practising beyond the boundary rope less in future. It might be the sensible option to prepare him for South Africa. He is a proven performer so when he's available we'll welcome him back. We've known for a long time he has keeping skills and it often means you can slot another batsman into your XI."

Former New Zealand cricketer Chris Kuggeleijn used to coach Watling in the first XI at Hamilton Boys' High School and says Watling has become a jack of all trades or a cover for the national team in a tight spot - as when he opened again recently in the West Indies.

"B-J's got so many strings to his bow, it's almost hindering him. Kruger is a good player but I've always felt B-J could be more useful in the middle order against a second new ball as well as keeping. Then, if anything dramatic happens, you've got someone who can slot into the top order in a crisis."

Watling's loss has been van Wyk's gain. Van Wyk has now played seven tests for 18 dismissals (17 catches and a stumping) and averages 23.07 with the bat from seven or eight. He has been consistent in 13 innings including a 71 against India and six scores between 20 and 39. Van Wyk has conceded 34 byes (2.62 per innings) which includes a day in India where 11 went through. His catching rate is solid by New Zealand standards at 1.384 per innings but no comparison to veterans Brendon McCullum (1.849) or Adam Parore (1.661).

- Herald on Sunday

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