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BJ Watling, An Absolute Gem

The role of a wicketkeeper-batsman has changed over time. There was an era when the primary job of a wicketkeeper was deemed to be keeping. However, with changing times their role has evolved into something akin to an allrounder.

They have donned the parts of shrewd captains (Brendon McCullum, MS Dhoni), explosive openers (Quinton De Kock, Adam Gilchrist), and streetfighters down the order (Moin Khan). Somewhere down the line, there has also been an evolution of keepers whose batting skillset is superior to their role behind the stumps.

Some of them have had to choose concerning their preferred roles in the team. So, legends of the game like Kumar Sangakkara, Brendon McCullum, etc. have given up the role of a keeper to concentrate on giving their best as batsmen for the side.

Bradley-John Watling, the New Zealand Keeper-Batsman, has been a bit of an interesting case in modern times. For the Northern Districts player started as a keeper in the domestic circuit but was very soon turned into an opener by his team.

He made his New Zealand debut in this capacity. However, some games later he was chosen to keep wickets against Zimbabwe. Having impressed in the Test match, he was a regular wicket-keeper batsman for his national side.

What makes BJ Watling special is that he is one of the few players in the modern era who could be selected for his batting alone yet has fulfilled the needs of his side both as a wicketkeeper and a batsman for the majority of his Test career.

He began in the shadows of Brendon McCullum but still managed to secure a regular place in the side.

His Test average of 38.11 is very good for a keeper (MS Dhoni averaged 38.09), and he came into his own batting at no. 6 (average 44.67) and 7 (average 35.3) where he scored the majority of his career runs (3284 out of 3773).

He stands 11th in the list of all-time run-scorers amongst cricketers who kept wickets, however, Andy Flower and Mushfiqur Rahim are the only ones ahead with a lesser number of games to their name.

Going beyond numbers, his impact has been in the crucial runs he has been able to deliver for his side in key games. His debut itself featured a blistering 60 off 62 (New Zealand was chasing a small target and needed quick runs at that moment), however, he would gradually become known for his calm and collected contribution lower down the order.

There was the match-saving 124 against India in Wellington. Up against a deficit of 246 runs, New Zealand had their backs against the wall at 94/5. However, Watling joined hands with Brendon McCullum to stitch together a partnership of 352 runs (The third-highest partnership for the sixth wicket) and ensure that New Zealand was out of danger. His knock came at a strike rate of 33.78 and broke the back of the Indian bowling effort.

Less than a year later, he fished out New Zealand out of trouble with the help of future New Zealand captain Kane Williamson. Going into the third innings, New Zealand was trailing Sri Lanka by 135 runs. Sri Lanka could sniff a win when Jimmy Neesham lost his wicket to Nuwan Pradeep, leaving the Black Caps at 159/5.

However, Kane Williamson and Watling remained unbeaten for the rest of the New Zealand innings. They added 365 runs (The second-highest partnership for the sixth wicket) of which BJ Watling’s contribution was 142 runs off 333 balls. New Zealand went on to win the Test by 193 runs.

The Kiwi gloveman is all set to retire at the end of the England tour, the home side is an opposition he loves performing against. He has scored 778 runs at an average of 55.57 against the English team. These include two match-winning contributions, that of 120 at Headingley, Leeds in 2015 and 205 at Bay Oval, Mount Maunganui in 2019.

BJ Watling has been a splendid gloveman for his national side too, having picked 257 dismissals, placing himself at 9th place in the all-time list. Moreover, he has an impressive dismissal per innings of 2.09.

BJ Watling is a not much-discussed player in a format that doesn’t garner the maximum number of views. However, he has only enriched the game in his 12-year career as a cricketer. BJ Watling may perhaps even get overshadowed in his final Test, but his legacy will remain that of a team player who rose to the occasion whenever the situation demanded.

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