BJ Watling is a perfect role model for the modern day cricketers. His career teaches that it’s not always about being flashy and attacking, but it’s all about having a stomach for fight and that so long as one has enormous determination, one can sail through toughest of the conditions. For 12 years, Watling’s work ethics have defined what New Zealand are about!
The ICC World Championship final was BJ Watling’s final Test, as New Zealand’s evergreen wicket-keeper decided to hang his gloves. Just like his innings which goes without many fireworks but leaves great impact on the game, the vacuum left by his retirement will not be understood immediately but in times to come by. Since 2013, New Zealand has formed a strong core of players who have scripted some of the golden moments for New Zealand cricket. Watling has been one of the architects of these moments as New Zealand went on to establish one of the finest teams of their cricket history.
Born in Durban, South Africa, Watling‘s family moved to New Zealand in 1995, when he was only 10. It was the time when New Zealand were re-building a team after the end of Hadlee-Crowe era. He made his debut in domestic cricket in late 2004 and by 2009, at the age of 24, played his First International- a T20 against Pakistan.
A month later he played his First Test; this would be the start of 12-year-long career for New Zealand’s talismanic wicket-keeper.
The start was though not a rosy one as he had to face tough competition. It was only when Brendon McCullum became captain he showed faith in Watling’s ability and the trust started to yield the dividends. Watling’s first rise of prominence was his marathon partnership with Brendon McCullum at Basin Reserve against India in February 2014. The duo batted for almost two days to defy Indian bowlers. Watling’s brilliant 124 was still overshadowed by McCullum’s triple hundred, the first ever by a New Zealander.
Watling played 310 balls in the innings with both he and McCullum batting out 123 overs in the partnership. Let that sink in.
Next summer, he was again involved in the massive partnership, this time with Kane Williamson. Watling made 142* and added an unbroken 365-run record partnership on the sixth wicket with Williamson, who scored 242*. The inning which ultimately led experts acknowledging him as the best Test keeper of his time, was his hundred at Leeds against England in 2015.
Watling’s main strength has been his ability to bat for longer periods of time. His game is built upon grinding the opposition and accumulating runs thereafter. This is the reason why he bats big. When he is settled in, he ensures that he does not leave an opportunity to overtake the opposition. His 105 at P Sara Oval in 2019 ensured that the team won a memorable away victory in Sri Lanka.
Few months earlier, he had played a crucial inning of 77* on a spinning track against Pakistan. The inning ensured that New Zealand registered their first ever away win against Pakistan since 1969.
In November 2019, he made a big double hundred against England, which ensured New Zealand’s domination at home in this decade continued without any interruptions. However, his form since that series onwards took a dip as in these 19 months (Nov 19-June 21), he has made 250 runs in 9 Tests at an average of 19.23. With a decline in recent form and his age (35 now) along with a young family, perhaps BJ Watling thought it was time to call curtains on a 12-year-illustrious career.
The World Test Championship Final was his 75th and final Test. In recent years, New Zealand have proven they are not dependent on particular individual but they are group of excellent players who have formed a formidable team, which has received respect in and outside New Zealand. It has been a rarity in New Zealand’s cricket, who’ve always been dubbed the dark horses. However, since 2013, the start of McCullum era, they have ensured that this small country with population of 4.6 million continues to supply quality cricketer.
Also, ensuring the foundation laid by Hadlee-Crowe (1980-1990) and Fleming era (1997-2008) continues and New Zealand continue to rise in echelons of International Cricket.
New Zealand need to ensure that they do not fall after great highs like South Africa and Sri Lanka whose youngsters could not replicate the same performances like their golden generations. Watling, however, currently is focused on ensuring that New Zealand after missing out on two world cup finals in 50-over game (2015 and 2019) turns out to be a champion in longest version of the game.
Watling has been the best wicketkeeper batsman of his era, and if you pick up best wicketkeeper-batsmen of last three decades he will be up there with the best in business. Ian Healy (1992-1998), Adam Gilchrist and Mark Boucher (1999-2008), MS Dhoni (2009-2014), and BJ Watling (2015-2021), we can shortlist some of the best wicketkeeper- batsmen of their era. Watling on the other hand has been the best from New Zealand, he has left players like Brendon McCullum, Ian Smith and Adam Parore far behind. A look at some of the record which Watling has:
Most Tests for New Zealand
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Watling has played for 12 years and has appeared in 74 matches. He could have played many more Tests had he appeared for England, Australia or India. But as has been the case with some of the past Kiwi greats, many could have played 100 Tests (Sir Richard Hadlee 86 in 17 years, Crowe 77 in 14 years, Wright 82 in 14 years), but missed out on the landmark only because New Zealand do not play an awful lot unlike the big three.
In spite of this, he is undoubtedly the best Test keeper of his generation (2014-2021) and inarguably, the best New Zealand ever had.
Watling will leave a legacy and huge hole for his successors to fill. A player who was a team man, a brilliant keeper, a top class batsman and above all- a fighter, in attitude not in words.
Some of the key facts about Watling
- Bradley-Jhon Watling was born in Durban, South Africa July 9th 1985, he moved to New Zealand in 1995 aged 10 years old.
- ICC Test Championship will be his 75th Test, till now he has scored 3789 runs at 37.89 in 74 Tests.
- In 74 Tests, he has 262 catches and 8 stumping with total 270 dismissals to his name.
- He has 8 hundreds to his name making him one of the most successful wicket keeper -batsmen in history of game.
- He is the most successful wicket-keeper in New Zealand’s Cricket history
- Watling has the knack of batting long and this is the habit he has developed very early, while representing the Hamilton Boys’ High School 1st XI, Watling once contributed to partnership in excess of 200 with Daniel Bought wood, which to date remains a 1st XI record.
- He also scored a mammoth 378 in the 2008 Hamilton senior club final against Eastern Suburbs.