Cricket: Watling's skills ensure he remains a keeper

By Daniel Richardson

BJ Watling can rest easy - his job in the New Zealand test cricket side looks the safest since he pulled on the wicketkeeping gloves at the beginning of last year.

After being thrown into keeping duties by then-coach John Wright in a bid to strengthen New Zealand's middle order, Watling has greatly improved his glove work while his batting continues to be solid.

The 27-year-old made a composed 60 during New Zealand's disappointing first innings of 254 on day three of the second test against England at the Basin Reserve yesterday and displayed why Wright showed such faith in him. Watling plays pace well but more importantly he has an impressive temperament when things go pear-shaped.

Wickets fell at regular intervals for New Zealand yesterday but Watling shared a 100-run stand with skipper Brendon McCullum for the sixth wicket and batted well with the tail after McCullum departed.

There's a few players on the domestic circuit who are vying for Watling's job, namely Wellington's Luke Ronchi, Otago stumper Derek de Boorder or Cantabrian Tom Latham. But Watling knocked back the challenge of Kruger van Wyk, who briefly occupied his spot in the national side as Watling spent time out with injury last year - and he hasn't looked back.

During the massacre in South Africa at the beginning of the year, Watling was one of the few players who returned home with his reputation intact. He produced a pair of 63s in the second test at Port Elizabeth where his calm demeanour at the crease was evident.

There have been calls to move him up the order in light of his strong showing in the Republic but as the old adage goes: 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it'.

Watling always had a strong grounding in wicketkeeping through his extensive experience with the gloves at age-group level but said he had refined his skills lately.

"I've just being working away at it for the last 14 months and hopefully improving each game and just trying to figure out different situations and different things that might happen in a game of cricket. So each game [I'm] just learning and making sure that I don't keep making the same mistakes," he said.

Watling uses McCullum as a sounding board for advice, while he also works with former Auckland wicketkeeper Jason Mills.

Watling's form leaves Ronchi in an intriguing position. The Dannevirke-born 31-year-old, who played a handful of limited overs games for Australia between 2008 and 2009, has now qualified to represent New Zealand after observing a four-year stand down period.

He made bucketloads of runs in the Plunket Shield this summer - 807 at an average of 62.07 to be exact - including four centuries and was included in the New Zealand XI to meet the travelling English side earlier this month but had to withdraw through injury.

Ronchi is now back in action with Wellington in the domestic one-day competition and will remain in the selectors' thoughts but Watling is proving he can't be discarded.

- APNZ

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