“Like many times in his career, he has once again turned out to be the silent assassin for New Zealand”
When BJ Watling walked into the crease at a precarious 72 for 4 at Abu Dhabi, things could have gone either way. Either New Zealand could have folded for about 120 or he and his skipper Kane Williamson could have stitched a healthy partnership to help New Zealand to a better position. Thankfully for his side, it was the latter. It was just the first day of the Test – a decider – and New Zealand had all the time in the world to put up a good score on the board, but with Yasir Shah continuing from where he left off at Dubai, the Kiwi batsmen needed to be a bit more patient. There could not have been a better batsman to walk in at those circumstances. His calm and calculated approach ensured New Zealand got a decent score on the board and at the end of the second day, they have as much a chance as Pakistan to clinch the series.
It was a good toss to win for New Zealand. It was a decent wicket to bat on, but the batsmen had to vary of some sharp spin right from Day One, which would only go on to spin more and more as the days rolled on. New Zealand would have been happy with a score of 300 to 350, but after their early wickets, they would have eventually settled for 274. Kane Williamson was left stranded at Dubai in the first innings when his side was bowled out for 90, but he seemed determined to make it count this time around. At the other end, he had Watling, who could just keep blocking it the whole day without letting the pressure get to them. Together, they were a formidable unit, but the task ahead of them was a stiff one.
One of the ways to choke the batsmen is to ensure that they do not score freely and forcing them to make mistakes. For a few players, they feel a bit of pressure when they are not able to score boundaries freely. However, the Williamson-Watling partnership showed no signs of being frustrated nor did they at any point seem to offer any chance of Pakistan getting a wicket. The first boundary in their partnership came almost 20 overs into it, with a beautiful drive from Williamson through covers. After coming into bat in the 27th over of the match, Watling struck his first boundary almost 38 overs later – A lucky outside edge, which went past slip. Williamson and Watling put on a crucial 104-run stand for the fifth wicket, restricting New Zealand’s fading innings.
Test cricket in recent times has become all about the runs. The days when the batsmen used to play out time to secure a draw is perhaps long gone. With a lot of results in Tests these days, many believe that it is good for the game as it is believed to be a format which is losing popularity especially with the advent of shorter forms of cricket. But Test cricket has its own charm and Watling showed everyone what it is all about. Digging deep and the determination to overcome any obstacle, while scoring runs is the mark of a true Test batsman. You may have to play and miss a few times or even take a blow on your body on a couple of occasions, but the important thing is to still remain unfazed by that and carry on. Watling has a big heart and temperament as good as any in the world to get the job done for his team regardless of what is thrown at him
Watling has played many such innings, however, his best will remain the 124 he scored against India at Wellington in 2014. From the cusp of a prospective innings defeat, Watling and Brendon McCullum put on 352 for the sixth wicket to help New Zealand to safety. Watling batted for over 8 hours. While McCullum and Jimmy Neesham hogged the limelight in that match for a brilliant triple century and a century on debut respectively, it would not have been possible to save the Test without Watling’s brilliance.
While Watling’s prowess with the bat is not yet taken off in limited-overs, he is an integral cog in the Test set up, with the bat in hand and also behind the wickets, where he is among the safest wicketkeepers in the world today. Watling with his high bat lift and excellent hand-eye coordination has time and again been the thorn in the flesh of the opposition. At Abu Dhabi, his unbeaten 250-ball 77 was no different. He did not get bogged down when wickets fell at the other end and in fact seemed to give the tail-enders the confidence when they joined them at the crease. The tailenders (From 8 to 11) played a total of 142 deliveries between them but managed just 21 runs.
There were no rash shots played by any lower-order batsmen and they kept up with the calm and composed manner in which Watling went about things. Watling batted well with the tail. From 209 for 6, Watling took responsibility of scoring runs, in the hope that he would get some support at the other end. He got a bit of support and that was enough for him to take New Zealand to a par first innings total in the end. Like many times in his career, he has once again turned out to be the silent assassin for New Zealand.