Watling starts from scratch for West Indies tour
It was back to basics for BJ Watling this week.
The Black Caps wicketkeeper-batsman hasn't had much time off since the end of the season, but it's still a matter of building slowly as he prepares for the tour of the West Indies.
The 28-year-old had one week of relaxation after Northern Districts' season finished in early April, before getting back in the gym and running.
Then this week it was hitting balls in the indoor nets and getting used to the feel of the keeping gloves again as he tries to find some rhythm.
"It's pretty basic, indoors," he said. "You can't really adjust to any conditions or anything, so it's a bit of grooving time with the gloves and with the bat."
The squad for the three-test series flies out next Saturday, with the Black Caps having learnt to give themselves plenty of preparation time ahead of the first test which starts on June 8 in Jamaica.
"Last time we went there we might have been a bit under-prepared, so we're going there two weeks out to make sure that we get some time in their conditions," said Watling, referring to the abysmal 2012 trip.
On that occasion, New Zealand went in pretty cold, were hammered in the two Twenty20 internationals, beaten 4-1 in the ODIs and lost both tests.
This time there are two-day and three-day warm-up matches against Jamaica Select XI, as the Black Caps adjust to a massive difference in climate.
Although they outclassed the Windies on their tour here last summer, Watling is expecting a much tougher proposition this time, and is preparing for spin to be a big factor on the slow, low pitches.
"I'd say [Sunil] Narine will be a challenge again, and I'm pretty sure [Shane] Shillingford will be there or thereabouts. It'll definitely suit them, so we've got to be adaptable and make sure we're ready to play in different conditions."
Watling, who is now averaging 35.22 at test level, will be keen to carry on from his last knock in the white clothing - that splendid 124 he hit during Brendon McCullum's triple century to save the test against India in Wellington in February.
"It was a while ago now and a lot more has happened since then," Watling said. "So it's just about moving on and taking each test and each innings at a time."
In working on his game, Watling will now have Craig McMillan for advice, as the team's batting coach for the tour, with someone to be named in the role fulltime thereafter.
"We've just heard from Macca this week, so we'll be starting to get to know him a bit better and see what he's got to offer over the next 10 weeks or so," Watling said.
The three tests are followed by two T20s, and whether Watling is required for them remains to be seen. However, he has been given a chance to hone his 50-over game ahead of next year's World Cup by being selected in the New Zealand A squad to tour England through August.
Watling has also been named captain for that trip, which is a "good little challenge" he's looking forward to, though he admitted it wasn't something he had been briefed on.
"I'll talk to [assistant coach] Bob [Carter] and Hess [coach Mike Hesson] closer to the time when the England series comes along and get an idea of how they want to see guys, and what roles they want to see them in."
Having never skippered a side before, Watling filled in for Northern Districts in the one-day competition when Daniel Flynn got injured, although, as a keeper, he's a natural leader anyway.
"Yeah, you try and give some advice and you get your thoughts out there as a keeper. So I guess I've done a fair bit of that over the last 10 years. But I think it's different when you're the guy they go to and you make the final call on who's bowling the last over or this and that. So there's definitely a lot more pressure." Fairfax NZ