Our BJ opens up

BY GREG FORD
Last updated 05:00 20/12/2009
watling
Photo: Waikato Times
PACK YOUR BAGS: Bradley John aka "BJ" Watling, the Black Caps' newest opener, packing his bags for Napier last week to join the Black Caps.

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LOYALTY. HONESTY. SELFLESSNESS.

There are plenty of 18-year-old kids around with tattoos on their arms but just one with those three words inked on his left bicep.

His name is BJ Watling. He's New Zealand's newest test opener. And at the tender age of 18, just a few months after leaving Hamilton Boys' High School, he joined the Northern Districts academy for young cricketers, and wanted to make a statement about how he wanted to live his life, find a creed to abide by.

Instead of borrowing one from a book, or mangling one from another culture, he pinched one off a mate, the bloke he calls his "mentor", Chris Kuggeleijn.

The former New Zealand test allrounder was Watling's first coach at schoolboy first XI level.

"And I have become kind of his surrogate father to him," explains Kuggeleijn.

"I have hundreds of mottos and sayings. I am always dreaming them up, and that one is a Chris Kuggeleijn original. It says all you need to know about BJ that he made it his own, and tattooed it on his arm."

Watling is now 24 and last week made his test debut for New Zealand against Pakistan at McLean Park, Napier.

Before the weather intervened, he was poised to guide New Zealand to an historic test and series victory.

Needing a bit over 200 runs on the last day, he'd scored 60 kick-fire runs, and was looking, well, so comfortable, he was cruising.

But the match was abandoned when parched Hawke's Bay was drenched in heavy rain.

Watling, whose first names are Bradley John, but prefers the abbreviated version BJ, sat in the team's changing shed sipping a beer once it was all over.

He can remember the odd pat on the back, then the gaffer, Dan Vettori, plonked himself in a pew beside him.

"He said `well played'," explained Watling on Friday, still sounding chuffed.

Was that it?

"Yeah, that was about it," he said.

"That was enough.

"I need, and I guess everyone is conscious, that I keep my feet on the ground. I got a few other pats on the back, and it was nice to make a contribution, play with some positive intent, play without any fear."

Which is a nice way to sum up his innings: fearless, and all too brief, but mightily encouraging.

New Zealand hasn't exactly be inundated with test quality openers since John Wright and Bruce Edgar retired.

What a boon it would therefore have been had he kicked on and scored a career-defining ton.

It may well have added a new sheen to the Black Caps' poisoned chalice.

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Given all that and Watlings' encouraging start, you'd imagine Vettori would be doing cartwheels. But no one is getting too carried away, which is probably best.

No one wants to jinx the man, the deck was flat, he had nothing much to lose, and with Jesse Ryder waiting in the wings, there's also no guarantee he will play in whites for New Zealand again soon.

However, Kuggeleijn believes "he will play a lot of cricket for New Zealand".

"I think he has a big future in the game, always have. He's extremely dedicated and works hard at his game. He's often down at the school nets having throws with the boys and getting in some extra practice."

And he's also a regular at the Kuggeleijn family dinner table in Cambridge, eating with Chris' two teenage sons. "He's part of the extended whanau."

Conversation generally revolves around sport, golf, hockey cricket, you name it.

Horse racing is another passion.

On the day we spoke with Watling, Brendon McCullum's horse was racing at Canterbury and he was anxious to catch the race. Watling was in Invercargill where he will play for Northern Districts in a one-day game against Otago today.

He is accomplished at the shorter version of the game, having already played for New Zealand at 20/20 level. Young cricketers are now spoilt for choice when weighing their career options. Test cricket is losing its grip.

There's plenty of cash to be made in the shorter version in India, however, in what will be music to the purists ears, Watling remains a traditionalist.

"Test cricket is the hardest form of the game – it's where you want to test yourself and your skills. It's the ultimate and that's where I want to make my mark."

Watling was born in South Africa. He moved to New Zealand with his mother aged 10.

Not surprisingly then he has modelled his game on Jonty Rhodes, the livewire former Protea batsman and outstanding fielder.

"He wasn't the biggest hitter, more an accumulator. He hit well to the gaps and ran well between wickets. It's kind of how I like to play, or at least develop my game to be like.

"Hopefully I will get another chance to play for New Zealand again.

"But for now there's plenty of work to be done. I need to keep scoring runs [for ND]."

And work on living up to those rather lofty goals – loyalty, honesty and selflessness.

"I think I'm doing OK on that front. You are right they are pretty [imposing] but I am doing OK."

- Sunday Star Times

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