Henry Rounce: How BJ Watling's defence allowed Blackcaps to attack

OPINION: On the 192nd ball of BJ Watling's resolute, defiant innings against Pakistan, the nuggety Blackcaps wicket-keeper crunched one through the covers.

The boundary was a rare one and described by the commentators as such.

"It's taken him 192 balls to play the best shot of his innings."

Watling's sweat-stained stay was so much more than an unbeaten 77 off 250 balls. As he so often does, he kept New Zealand in the hunt.

He's the type of player that can dig the Blackcaps out of a hole, even without a shovel. Chuck him up a creek without a paddle and he’ll be back on land the next day.

Watling isn't a free-scoring player - every run is a treasure.

He's all about rock-solid defence. If Donald Trump wants to build a wall, then a material resembling Watling would be a great start.

He scurries between the wickets and clamps down on the fiery spin of Yasir Shah, extinguishing the flames.

In doing so, he turned the heat up on Pakistan. Captain Sarfraz Ahmed yelled in frustration, after a loose delivery slipped through his fingers and ran away for three byes.

He shook his head in frustration, after another misfield and angrily stalked the ground like a man who's found his wallet, but still can't discover where he left his keys.

Watling remained unbothered. The flies swarmed around his head, the dust and sweat gathered in his eyes, his hair stuck to his helmet, but his fighting never stopped.

Along the way, he reached 3000 test runs. Off-spinner Will Somerville came out on debut and played a similarly steadfast knock, his 12 runs coming off 99 balls.

Stats from Cricviz.com back up Watling's proficiency in batting with the tail and getting every last drop out of the order.

T10 antidote

 

He is the king of a partnership. His name features in the top three averaging pairs from New Zealand, who have played at least 10 innings together.

He ended Day One of this third test having faced 180 balls and scored just one boundary. That left him with a boundary percentage of 0.55, the lowest mark of all players who have faced at least 150 balls in a red-ball innings this year.

Watling's now averaged 41.45 with the bat in the last four years, a mark only bettered by Mushfiqur Rahim and Jonny Bairstow, among the 16 keepers who played at least 10 innings since 2015.

Just last week, the 90-minute, 10-over run-fest called the T10 League started for its second season. Bairstow slaughtered 84 off 24 balls and then a day later, Alex Hales plundered 87 from 32.

Watling is the antidote to all of that. He’s built on grit and determination, and the refusal to give his wicket away.

After every ball, he strode away to the leg side and surveyed the ground. His chin-strap fitted snugly under his chin, like an extra lip he could bite to remind himself to stay in the fight.

Somerville had a moment of indecision and got bowled. Ajaz Patel whacked an on-drive against the spin, then got a ripper that bit and ate the shoulder of his bat.

Trent Boult blocked a couple, then charged Bilal Asif and had his stumps rattled.

At the end of the innings, after 250 balls, four boundaries and with a strike-rate of 30.80, Watling was unbeaten on 77.

The players left the field, while the groundsmen gave the wicket a quick roll. It was a fitting end, because over the course of two days, Watling himself refused to roll over.

Henry Rounce is a Newshub sports reporter. 

Contact Newshub with your story tips:
news@newshub.co.nz