While batting in the lower middle-order, Watling's rearguard actions have bailed the Blackcaps out of a hole on many occasions
"You shouldn't emulate someone. Try and trust your own gameplan."
For the past 11 years, this has been BJ Watling's survival strategy. In this era of flamboyant wicketkeeper-batsmen like Quinton de Kock, Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler or even Rishabh Pant; the New Zealand gloveman is like a quiet man in the corner of a crowded restaurant on a Saturday night. Watling's aloof persona doesn't fit into the preferred list of modern cricket audience, which is more inclined towards style over substance. Yet, statistically, his achievements as a specialist wicket-keeper batsman in the purest format of the sport have overshadowed many modern legends, including the likes of MS Dhoni and Kumar Sangakkara or any of his own countrymen.
As a batsman, Watling is a gutsy grinder – a complete contrast to his predecessor Brendon McCullum. But he is one man whom you want in a crisis situation. His batting might not look pleasing to the eyes but he does the ugly job quite effectively.
While batting in the lower middle-order (mostly at No 6), Watling's rearguard actions have bailed the Blackcaps out of a hole on many occasions. Till date, the 34-year old has scored eight Test centuries (at an average of 38.91), seven as a keeper and six of those have come in a winning cause. He is also the first New Zealand keeper to score a Test double century, which came against England in Mount Maunganui last year.
Yet, despite being around for more than a decade and all his credentials in the dual role of keeping and batting, the man prefers to call himself a "limited" cricketer.
"I know my limitation and I play accordingly," says the soft-spoken Durban-born cricketer in an exclusive chat on the sidelines of New Zealand's training session at the Hagley Oval on Friday.
"I try to play whatever the situation is. Sometimes that might require batting for a longer period of time, sometimes it might require a few shots. That's how I go about my batting."
But is it as simple as that, especially when you are not a natural stroke player like de Kock, (whom Watling follows very closely) or Jos Buttler or Bairstow and often being left to bat with the tail?
"Well, it is always hard to explain how I have managed to do it (batting with the tail with a strike-rate of 42.43) over the years," Watling says. "Those guys are (de Kock and all) fantastic players and I would like to have some of the shots that they do. They are all good fun too but at the end of the day, there are five days of Test cricket which is a really long time I believe. I have noticed that there haven't been too many draws of late. So, actually, you do have more time than we think in Test cricket."
"Personally for me, moving to No 6 has helped to take my time initially (at the start of the innings). A specialist batter after me allows me to start my innings normally and then try and approach the innings with the tail a little-bit differently. Again it depends on the game situation, what the wicket is like, how confident your partner is at the other end."
"I have managed to put useful partnerships with the likes of Tim (Southee) and Trent (Boult). These guys have very good eyes. Actually, it is sometimes about keeping calm, focused on the job ahead. They have all the shots, so I actually try to feed them the strikes and often this ploy has worked for me," he further explains.
It may sound simple but the execution requires some special skills, which the Kiwi gloveman certainly has.
Interestingly, Wriddhiman Saha, who is perhaps the Indian version of Watling, has been sidelined from the playing XI in this series and Rishabh Pant has been preferred for being a better batsman.
Despite being in the opposition camp, the New Zealand keeper feels for his counterpart.
"That's a tough selection dilemma that India have. Don't think Saha has done badly with the bat. I guess you just need to keep doing your things and trust your gameplans and hope it will work for him (Saha) in the future. But it's good learning for Pant to come over and get a chance to bat over here and do some keeping. Also, runs from a keepers' perspective is very important for the team, however you go about that. So, as a keeper-batsman, your role becomes more important on these conditions."
The cricketer from Manuka, who initially started his international career as a specialist batsman, also spoke about the challenges he faces while keeping wickets.
"Often we tend to undermine the difficulties of keeping wickets in New Zealand conditions. I believe it is a bit similar to England. Yes, there is a difference in the ball (In the United Kingdom, Dukes are used for Test matches whereas, in New Zealand, they use Kookaburra) but on greener pitches, there is always a bit of swing and if the wind picks up, there can be a bit of wobble. So, I trust my short sharp movements and trying to be still when I am taking a catch."
"Actually, it's all about following the basics," again the man tries to play down his skills.
Perhaps, keeping a low-profile off the field helps him focus more on the game. For him, the limelight hardly matters. It is all about getting the job done and having a beer at the end of a hard day's work.
That is Bradley-John Watling for you.
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