Retirement of BJ Watling: a tribute to a man who went under the radar

2
2003
Image source: https://superstarsbio.com/bios/bj-watling/
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Bradley John Watling is retiring from international cricket after the World Test Championship final this month. He has been a great servant for New Zealand Cricket and cricket as a whole in the last decade. The majority of the cricketing world doesn’t seem to notice though. I am not saying that nobody knows this decision but I wonder why hasn’t been made a bigger deal. Maybe it’s the unfashionable nature of BJ Watling himself or the unstylish cricketing nation that he belongs to, but I believe overlooking his departure from the game just shows how the game tends to forget some players quicker than we realize.

I know he doesn’t belong to the “Big Three” nations but we are talking about everyone’s second-favorite international team here. So, with the help of one of my favorite YouTubers and cricket writer, Jarrod Kimber, I want to tell you guys why BJ Watling’s retirement should be talked about more. Let us give some credit where it’s due and celebrate a great career that is about to end.

BJ Watling averages just over thirty-eight in test cricket. In a world where we love the numbers of Steve Smith averaging over sixty-one and guys like Kohli, Williamson averaging over fifty with style, thirty-eight seems a low number. But let’s take off our elite tinted glasses for once and look beyond the top one-percent players of the modern age. They are just freaks in the best possible way and the game needs them. We are bound to acknowledge them and regard them in a different category. However, the game involves all players just under these superstars, who are just as important to our beloved format of test-cricket. Moreover, Watling belongs to the most thankless of jobs in test-cricket, wicket-keeping. In a wicket-keeper batsman sense, he is a superstar. We just don’t notice him. Our beloved Jarrod Kimber fittingly described him in the title of his recent video on YouTube to have been created in a lab to be invisible. Let’s look at the numbers for wicketkeepers first.

Image: Comparison of BJ Watling with modern Wicketkeeper batsmen and their records from recent matches.

In the image, we can clearly see how high BJ Watling ranks among wicketkeepers. Bear in mind that this is an all-time list, and Watling ranks sixth among all of them. That is seriously impressive. Andy Flower and Adam Gilchrist are outrageous but after those two, no other keeper is close to reaching forty-five. So, Watling’s record is one of the best of all time when taken in the context of wicketkeepers. He averages more than Quinton de Kock and MS Dhoni.

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And while the other two are regarded as superstars in their own rights, even in test cricket, BJ Watling seems to go under the radar. Maybe it’s down to their popularity in limited over formats that affect their name in the longest format or the fact that Watling is as unfashionable as it gets when it comes to wicketkeeper batsmen. He strikes just over forty-two, which is basically a snail’s pace in modern times, even in test cricket.

To put that in context, Cheteswar Pujara has a strike rate of forty-five. With modern keepers like Risabh Pant, Jos Buttler, Niroshan Dicwella, and Quinton de Kock, there is some sort of enigma of them being hard-hitting cricketers, an entertaining bunch of guys who make test cricket even more fun.

BJ Watling couldn’t be further from this description, but I believe that most of the teams, except for India right now, would take a player of Watling’s caliber in a blink. To have a safe wicketkeeper, which Watling definitely is, who can bat long and averages nearly forty would make most teams stronger. If England had a wicketkeeper of Watling’s ilk, they wouldn’t have been looking for the best choice for the last few years by trying a few different wicket-keepers. Even India struggled to find a keeper who was good in both aspects until Pant finally arrived at the party in the last year.

MOST HUNDREDS AS A WICKETKEEPER

S.N.PLAYER, COUNTRYMATCHES*NO. OF HUNDREDS
1Adam Gilchrist, Australia9617
2Andy Flower, Zimbabwe5512
3Leslie Ames, England448
4Matt Prior, England797
5BJ Watling, New Zealand667
6Kumar Sangakkara, Sri Lanka487

* games played as a keeper

BJ Watling also has eight hundred to his name, seven of which came as wicketkeepers. That is the fourth-highest number of centuries for a keeper-batsman in tests, and the highest among any active wicketkeeper batsmen. In terms of wicketkeepers for New Zealand Cricket, no one comes close to his records in both batting and keeping. He also has the highest number of dismissals for Kiwi keepers and is ninth on the all-time list.

This record is really impressive by any standards. Watling went about his business so quietly that he basically didn’t exist in our consciousness of very good cricketers of this era. He faces nearly seventy-eight balls per innings, which is just outrageous for a batter who usually played at number six and seven most of his career.

This can be explained by the fact that he used to be an opener in his early days but still, seventy-eight balls on average are remarkable. To have such a stable batsman in the middle of your line-up is a gift that most teams don’t have. It’s funny when you think that a person who has been at sixes and sevens all his career is so calm and composed. Apologies for that horrible joke but we can all agree that his slow boring knocks have been vital to New Zealand becoming this force in test cricket for the last decade.

He had pressure on him to be good as he replaced the man, Brendon McCullum himself. You can’t find two players this different from each other in nature than these two. Not only has Watling lived up to the praises bestowed upon him by his predecessor, Baz, but he has exceeded the expectations.

He has been a strong pillar in this modern Blackcaps team and also a very good cricketer in general. However, at the end of his career, he is not getting the praise that he deserves.

Think about it, he isn’t even the most well-known wicketkeeper with Bradley J in his name. That honor goes to Bradley J Haddin, who averages five runs less than Watling. So this is an appreciation post for a silent kiwi who went on to become one of the top test wicket-keeper batsmen of all time, all while not letting anyone know about his brilliance, except for the ones close to him and the ones that were a very keen follower of test cricket in New Zealand.

For someone who defined himself as a “very limited cricketer” in an interview, he did surpass his own expectations and of others too. He belongs to a slowly dying breed of rock-solid lower middle-order with the temperament of an opener and New Zealand cricket will definitely miss him. I will do too and will always cherish his grinding double hundred against England in Mount Maunganui as one of the best innings played by a wicketkeeper that I’ve ever been lucky enough to witness.

I believe that he should be remembered as a very good servant of this game that we love. Someone who had an unremarkably remarkable career. I wish nothing but great success to BJ Watling in the second innings of his life, but knowing him he will be satisfied with limited success too.

https://www.youtube.com/c/JarrodKimberYT/featured

*Special thanks to Jarrod Kimber for the inspiration for this article. Do check out his YouTube channel Jarrod Kimber for great cricket analysis.

Stat source:

http://www.howstat.com/cricket/statistics/WicketKeeping/WicketKeepingMostRuns.asp?SortOrder=Avg

NARRATED BY NIRAJAN KHADKA

   

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