When Tom Hanks got acclaim for his war drama Saving Private Ryan there was little mention of Janusz Kamiński, the man who had put life in the movie.
In 2006 Rakesh Omprakash Mehra’s blockbuster Rang De Basanti was nominated in 19 categories at Film fare Awards winning 6 of them which included the best cinematographers to Binod Pradhan however till date the movie is remembered for its actors.
No tribute to BJ Watling can ever be rendered complete without mentioning that he is the presence without which the perfect team picture for New Zealand can never seem complete.
In December 2009, New Zealand changed its opening combination once again bringing 24-year-old Northern District batman BJ Watling. It was an era (2008-2011) during which Daniel Vettori has to shoulder the extraordinary burden as a batsman, bowler, and captain. It was also time when New Zealand were looking for young batsmen in the domestic circuit to replace the void left by Stephan Fleming, Nathan Astle, and Craig McMillan.Watling impressed in his first outing as he scored a brilliant 60* in just 62 balls as New Zealand tried to chase a target of 208 set by Pakistan at McLean Park, Napier only to be thwarted by rain.
It seemed the team’s headache of searching for an opening pair had been half resolved. However, the sterner test awaited Watling as he failed to show the same kind of resolve in 2010 against Australia at home and in India on turning pitches. Scoring only 125 runs in 8 innings at 17.85 meant he was dropped for a year.
He returned in 2011, now as a middle-order batsman, the trend continued till West Indies tour when he was dropped after a shambolic defeat from the home team. It looked that Watling’s much-promised career would be cut short, however by the end of 2012 New Zealand was gripped by a massive controversy over the change of leadership and the team was divided into two with Brendon McCullum being appointed as a new captain in place of Ross Taylor.
The decision though proved a great one as it not only gave New Zealand stability which they needed after the rebuilding of three years from 2008-2011 but also gave Watling a chance to put his career back on track.
In January 2013, Watling started his second journey as a national cricketer as he was drafted back in the Test team this time as makeshift wicket-keeper but that was his chance to revive his career at the age of 27 and Captain McCullum’s confidence in him worked wonders. In a series where New Zealand lost miserably 2-0 against South African pace quarter, it was Watling who stood tall gritting it out 0,42,63 and 63 in 4 innings.
He was the second-highest scorer for the team behind Dougie Brownlie. Later that year he made a brilliant 103 against Bangladesh and added 127 on the last wicket with Trent Boult. Watling savors his first away century to date; this was the inning that gave him and the team confidence that he was the long term prospect for the wicketkeeper role.
In 2014 when the whole of Basin Reserve had come to rise for their first-ever triple centurion Brendon McCullum, it was Watling on the other end who stood like a rock and ensured that New Zealand not only rose from trouble but also put Indian bowlers under pressure.
A partnership of 352 runs in 738 balls (123 overs) broke many records. Watling himself made a brilliant 124 off 367 balls; it was his innings that gave McCullum enough confidence to take on Indian bowlers. An year later when the Wellington cricket authorities were about to commemorate the pair for their achievement for record partnership, Watling ruined all their plans as he along Kane Williamson itched new record for 6th wicket stand this time 365 unbroken stand, the moment Watling arrived at the pitch New Zealand were 159-5 and only 24 ahead after the first-innings deficit of 135. A new plaque was to be set up at last by the authorities. Six months before this New Zealand had sealed a remarkable series win in the Caribbean by 2-1 and Watling contribution (207 at 51.75 was so crucial that it made even Brendon McCullum say that Watling was becoming his favorite player.
In spite of all this, Watling was not noticed on all these occasions probably because it involved players with star appeal and the man himself never tried to be in limelight. He slowly and steadily continued to build his reputation of a backstage hero.
And perhaps that is why one feels that a tribute to BJ Watling must consider the earnest man’s ability toward contributing to the team’s cause, putting himself at the backdrop minus a regret or tear shed.
In 2015 at Leeds he made a quality hundred against tough opposition. In 2018 when England reduced New Zealand to 36-5 in reply of 307 it was BJ Watling who with Colin Grandhomme rescued New Zealand and took them to 278. He batted for 306 minutes which proved pivotal later on when New Zealand went on to win the series. While in any other circumstance he would have been the center of attraction but just like we tend to forget the singer who gives life to the lyrics and remember whom we see on the screen, Watling went unnoticed.
Last year when New Zealand scripted a massive away series win over Pakistan (after 50 years), he played two major innings,59 in the second innings of the first test which New Zealand won by 4 runs and 77* in the first innings of the third Test which ensured the innings does not crumbles.
The 105* in Sri Lanka was the inning that gave him due to recognition and resurrected a number of his records. The critics who till then had been raising questions on his record in Asia appreciated his doggedness.
It was the moment for the first time in his 10-year career when he stood amid the center of all the attraction.
A number of them acknowledged him as the best wicket-keeper batsman currently.
At 34, Watling is trying to enjoy every day he is playing for New Zealand. His marathon 205 at Bay Oval against England was the showcase of his immense determination and a strong character which never gives up even in the toughest of situations. Be it Asia, England, West Indies or at home, in first innings or on the third or fourth day, batting with tailenders or with stars of the team, Watling’s formula is simple having immense patience which grinds the opposition into dust.
To offer a tribute to BJ Watling would require one to not solely focus on his batting, as ignoring his keeping skills would be unfair. Along with India’s Wriddhiman Saha, Wattling can be termed as the best wicket-keepers- hungry for making an impact and agile.
With 220 dismissals, he is the most successful wicketkeeper in New Zealand’s 90 year Test Cricket History. Some of his catches have been breathtaking, his presence behind the stumps gives New Zealand much needed security, isn’t it interesting that the most successful stumper of the country started off his international career as a pure batsman and took the gloves only to put his career back on track.
Watling knows his career may be over at any time and considering the gaps in New Zealand’s Test calendar any test could be his last but till then he will be acting like a string that connects the chords of New Zealand’s success.
BJ Watling’s will be celebrating 10 years in International Cricket on 11th Dec 2019. No tribute to BJ Watling can ever be complete without touching upon the following distinctions:
- He has played 64 Tests for New Zealand, 14th highest for New Zealand pays a perfect tribute to BJ Watling for his longevity to the Kiwi cause
- He has scored 3484 runs at 40.51, he is 9th highest scorer for his country.
- He has scored Eight Centuries, becoming one of the most successful keepers of all time
- That he has 220 dismissals, a New Zealand record, offers a perfect tribute to BJ Watling, who, by the way is also New Zealand’s most successful keeper, having broken Adam Parore’s 201 dismissal record.
- His average is above 40 as Wicket-keeper batsman which is one of the most successful along with likes of Adam Gilchrist and Andy Flower
- His 205 is the highest score by a New Zealand Wicketkeeper, it is also first double hundred by any New Zealand keeper
- He has been involved in three massive partnerships over the years a record in itself
- The 124 against India in 2013-14 at Wellington that resulted in adding a World Record of 352 runs for the 6th Wicket offers a tribute to BJ Watling for his ability to focus for long hours