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OPINION: BJ Watling has been damned with so much faint praise these past few days that he must be on the fast elevator down to hell. The 34-year-old keeper has been called New Zealand’s little battler, a gutsy grinder, dogged, bloody-minded, restrained, steadfast, tenacious and any other adjective that starts with dull. It is hopelessly unfair. Watling is one of the most brilliant cricketers of the modern age.
And when I am talking about brilliance, I am referring to a brilliant mind. Watling’s powers of concentration are superhuman. His ability to read the rhythms of a game are nigh on perfect. The intelligence of his shot selection is Oxbridge material. He is a cricketer who builds beautiful relationships in an often selfish sport and destroys other teams.
Watling has scored eight test centuries in his career to date, seven as a keeper. Only Les Ames, Andy Flower and Adam Gilchrist, the greatest of them all, have scored more as a wicketkeeper. But it is the nature of Watling’s centuries that count. Six of them have led to victory, two to a draw. His mind is at its keenest when it matters most.
To understand the value of Watling to this New Zealand side, it is worth looking at the renowned bookMoneyballwhich looked at how statistical theory revolutionised baseball. While the old baseball coaches went round the country swooning over the big sluggers, a geek-with-a-screen worked out that the guys with the highest on-base percentages was where the real value in the market lay.
* Kane hails amazing batting
* Scoreboard: NZ v England
* Black Caps storm to victory
* Santner pulls off stunning catch
This is Watling. He gets on base time and time again. And if on-base percentages are invaluable in baseball, then batting partnerships are invaluable in cricket. You can be the grandest biffer in the world, but if the guys at the other end keep getting out because you don’t rotate the strike, or leave them cold, or intimidate them, then it
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