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Cricket: Black Caps keeper BJ Watling holds key to rare test win over Australia

Watling pivotal New Zealand test player since his rebirth as a wicketkeeper but fitness still of concern.
New Zealand wicketkeeper/batsman BJ Watling's performances, as part of consecutive world record sixth-wicket partnerships, resonate most. Photo / Mark Mitchell
New Zealand wicketkeeper/batsman BJ Watling's performances, as part of consecutive world record sixth-wicket partnerships, resonate most. Photo / Mark Mitchell

BJ Watling's return to fitness remains pivotal to New Zealand's hopes of achieving a rare test win against Australia when the series opener starts at the Basin Reserve in Wellington tomorrow.

The 30-year-old was due to end a three-year hiatus to his one-day international career against Pakistan, but the second of the three matches in Napier was rained out and he injured his back ahead of the final outing in Auckland.

Watling missed the Northern Districts/Central Districts Plunket Shield match as part of his test preparations. He trained yesterday at the Basin Reserve, including an in-depth wicketkeeping session with coach Mike Hesson.

Watling has played five tests at the venue for two wins, two draws and a loss, but his individual performances, as part of consecutive world record sixth-wicket partnerships, resonate most.

In February 2014, Watling joined captain Brendon McCullum for the majority of his triple century against India. He came to the wicket at 94 for five with the Black Caps facing a 246-run first innings deficit. The pair put on 352 to save the test and pip the stand of Sri Lankans Mahela and Prasanna Jayawardene, scored against India in 2009, by one run. Watling made an outstanding 124.

In January 2015, it was the turn of Watling (142 not out) and Kane Williamson (242 not out) to extend the record to 365 in their victory over Sri Lanka.

Last month, it was eclipsed again when Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow made 399 in the draw against South Africa at Cape Town.

Watling has also had magnetic keeping gloves at the venue. His 18 dismissals as a wicketkeeper (17 catches and a stumping) have come at a rate of 2.57 per innings. No test gloveman who has kept in more than four innings at the venue has a better strike rate. Watling has given away 20 byes at the ground but they only came in two of his seven innings.

The wider picture is that Watling has become a key New Zealand test player since his rebirth as a wicketkeeper against Zimbabwe in January 2012 during the John Wright coaching reign.

Nowhere was that better exemplified than at Headingley last May. As a specialist batsman after injuring himself in the first test, he scored the first century by a New Zealander in a test at the venue, breaking a 66-year-old jinx. It was the key to New Zealand's first victory in England for 16 years.

As a result, Watling took his average into the 40s for the first time since debut when it was 78. It is now 37.71 after a struggle in Australia but, at the Basin Reserve, it is 62.14 in eight innings.

Watling's place would also offer more reassurance than if Luke Ronchi was to assume the batsman-wicketkeeper duties in his absence.

New Zealand have beaten Australia once in nine test attempts at Wellington - in 1990, when Wright's second innings 117 led them to a nine-wicket win.

- NZ Herald

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