BJ Watling has done it again. When he came to bat in the final hour of the play on day 2, New Zealand were in a tricky situation at 127 for four with both, Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor back to the hut. Still 226 runs behind, the home side needed their crisis man who did not disappoint.
The wicket-keeper batsman batted throughout the third day’s play to produce an unbeaten 119 to put the Black Caps ahead of England in the first innings of the opening Test on Saturday. At stumps on day three in Mount Maunganui, New Zealand were 394 for six to lead England by 41.
The 34-year-old Watling, with a reputation for producing his best when the going is tough, has toiled under a blazing sun for almost seven hours to rescue New Zealand from a precarious situation and notch his eighth Test century. Much of it was in partnership with Colin de Grandhomme in a 119-run stand for the sixth wicket and followed by an unbroken 78 with Mitchell Santner, who was 31 not out at stumps.
This was Watling’s second successive Test hundred ater his 105* in the Colombo Test paved the way for New Zealand’s series-levelling victory against Sri Lanka in August. Watling is now closing in on Jonny Bairstow to become the most prolific Test wicket-keeper this decade. The England wicket-keeper, dropped from the current English side, has 3,028 runs against his name since 2010. Watling is only 22 runs behind. He already has more dismissals than any other wicket-keeper with 217 scalps behind the stumps to add to his glory.
After the departure of Henry Nicholls who fell to Joe Root after a solid knock of 41 from 125 balls, Watling teamed up with de Grandhomme. While he kept the shoulders of the English bowlers down with his resistence, de Grandhomme characteristically punished anything loose with a six and seven fours as he raced to 65.
Stokes was surprisingly kept out of the attack through the onslaught until the first ball after tea, when he had instant success. De Grandhomme slashed at a wide delivery which Dom Sibley grasped one-handed in the gully and the New Zealand all-rounder, having just returned to the crease, immediately went back to the dressing room.
Watling, carrying on with Mitchell Santner as his partner, levelled the scores turning Sam Curran to the fine-leg boundary and then put New Zealand ahead with a single through square leg.
Despite fears from both sides the previous day that the Bay Oval pitch would start to deteriorate it during its debut Test, the ground offered little support for the fast bowlers, although Somerset spinner Jack Leach was able to extract some turn.
Watling has been involved in three of the six best New Zealand partnerships for the sixth-wicket. He scored 124 when partnering Brendon McCullum in a 352-run stand -- then a sixth-wicket world record -- to save a Test against India in 2014. The following year he broke that record in a 365-run effort with Kane Williamson against Sri Lanka and a few months later scored a century at Leeds in a famous win against England.
England came close to get past Watling towards the end of the day’s play when Jofra Archer wrapped the batsman in front of the stumps. The umpire lifted his finger but the replays on Watling’s DRS call clearly suggested an inside edge. The corrected decision kept Jofra Archer wicketless and England on the backfoot after the home side extended their lead to 41 runs with a well set pair of Watling and Santner still in the middle.