Daniel Richardson

Daniel Richardson is a Wellington-based sports journalist for NZME. News Service.

Cricket: Watling starting to come good

BJ Watling has played only intermittently for New Zealand since his debut in 2009 but that could change if his recent run of form continues. Photo / AP
BJ Watling has played only intermittently for New Zealand since his debut in 2009 but that could change if his recent run of form continues. Photo / AP

BJ Watling has played only intermittently for New Zealand since his debut in 2009 but that could change if his recent run of form continues.

The 27-year-old has scored 60, 72 not out, 40, 55 and 96 not out in his past five one-day internationals, which is the sort of consistency rarely seen by a batsman in a black cap.

He stroked an unbeaten 96 overnight in New Zealand's rain-affected seven-wicket loss to Sri Lanka in Pallekelle, when he also kept wicket because Brendon McCullum played only as a batsman.

Just where Watling fits into the New Zealand line-up in the varying forms of the game is up for debate and in the one-day side, where he has played 14 games, he has been used to open, bat at first drop or play from No 6.

In tests he has been used as an opener - without much success - but, perhaps tellingly, his best knock in the whites came when he batted at No 7 and was given the wicketkeeping duties against Zimbabwe in January, as he registered an unbeaten 102 in Napier.

He's impressed skipper Ross Taylor, who said Watling was "outstanding" in the last game against Sri Lanka.

"I guess competition is always good," Taylor said. "He's not an automatic selection but I'm sure the way he's been playing in the last little while is pushing for that."

Watling was overlooked for New Zealand's squad for the upcoming two-test series against Sri Lanka but pressure must be mounting on incumbent wicketkeeper Kruger van Wyk to put his stamp on the role.

In seven tests, the South African-born van Wyk has passed 50 only once and averages 23.07, despite posting bumper first-class numbers for Central Districts in recent seasons.

"I would say if Kruger doesn't perform [against Sri Lanka], I'd suggest that we'll see BJ Watling go to South Africa," former test opener Mark Richardson said.

"But if one of the batsmen struggles, you can also consider BJ Watling as well. Obviously there are two more one-day internationals to go in this current series so another score would be helpful.

"In test match cricket, I'd like him down there in that No 7 position. I think it's such an important position and if you've got a No 7 who's a hell of a good batsman and you can fiddle around with him then play him at six and play an extra bowler that's just brilliant. It becomes a wicketkeeping thing and he needs to make sure his wicketkeeping is up to the grade."

In the one-day game, Richardson said Watling's best spot was in the top three because the selectors appeared to want a different style of player in the middle to lower order.

The blowtorch must also be on Rob Nicol, who has made only one half century in his past 10 one-day innings and appears to have been given an extended run because Martin Guptill was rested for the limited overs games against Sri Lanka.

"Watling's shown enough in one-day cricket to warrant a place at the top of the order," Richardson said. "The only thing is when Guptill comes back [Watling] probably has to oust Nicol, which he's probably close to doing. But Nicol can contribute with the ball as well with his off-spin. So there's a little bit of competition for those top three spots."

The wildcard in the discussion is also the potential return to the international game of Jesse Ryder, who is yet to put a date on when he will be available for New Zealand but would be an automatic selection.

Watling will return to New Zealand after the final two one-dayers against Sri Lanka to play for Northern Districts and a string of good scores in the Plunket Shield should see him on the plane to South Africa next month.

The question remains where will he fit in.

- APNZ

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