Stand-in skipper leads the way for Knights
BJ Watling's current Trophy batting average is hugely impressive - but it's not as good as his captaincy record.
The Northern Knights wicketkeeper/batsman made 97 not out against the Auckland Aces in Hamilton yesterday, then took over the captaincy reins for the first time in his cricketing career.
He got outstanding support from his bowlers and fielders as the hosts at Seddon Park rolled Auckland for 147, handing Watling and crew a 110-run bonus-point win and a perfect rate in charge.
Regular skipper Daniel Flynn strained a groin muscle during his knock of 34 after he won the toss, with the Knights making a handy 257 for five on a holding wicket.
So when Watling walked off unbeaten at the end of the innings, he was told he'd be in charge for the second stanza - something he's never done before at any level.
"It was a great chance to attack them with our spinners - and our seamers got amongst them too," Watling said of his captaincy plans.
"It was a fun day today, taking wickets regularly. It may not be as much fun on some other days." Watling has been in a rich vein of form in the domestic one-day competition - he has now compiled 252 runs in three knocks while only being dismissed once.
He has been usurped in the national one-day side by the hard-hitting Luke Ronchi, but the test glovesman has long proved there's more than one way to be a highly effective 50-over batsman.
The 28-year-old gets the majority of his runs through placement and his electric pace between the wickets.
Batting at No 4 this season, his first 50 runs yesterday came off 68 balls and featured only three boundaries, but he accelerated through the latter stages, finding the boundary with a mix of power and improvisation. His next 47 runs came off only 25 balls, as he ended the innings with nine fours and six.
Watling provided the match-winning innings of 83 not out against Otago at the same venue last Wednesday and had earlier made 72 when the Knights lost to Auckland in their opening round clash. Yesterday's innings was his 20th half-century in domestic one-day cricket, to go with six centuries and he now averages over 40 in the competition.
"I've just been working away in the nets, trying to find that groove in the one-day format," he said after featuring with the bat for the Black Caps test side during their marvellous home summer.
"You've got to be effective against the slower bowlers [at No 4] and you've got to get going reasonably quickly. We've got a good young group of guys here at the moment and I'm just trying to work through for them and get as high a total as possible." As they did during their HRV Twenty20 competition victory, the Knights mastered the Seddon Park wicket yesterday.
"It was a niggly little wicket," Watling said.
That suited the spin attack of Ish Sodhi, Mitchell Santner - who came into the side on matchday for an ill Joe Carter - and off-spinner Jono Boult. They took a wicket apiece and put the breaks on any intended Auckland progress, while the seam trio of Scott Kuggeleijn, Graeme Aldridge and Anurag Verma excelled in picking up five wickets.
"We've got the test leg-spinner, Jono's bowling extremely well and young Mitch Santner as well," Watling said. "It definitely suits our team and I think it's a good wicket to test other teams on."
Watling added 87 for the third wicket with Daryl Mitchell, who had missed the latter stages of the first-class season and the opening two one-dayers with a broken thumb.
Mitchell's 59 came from 91 balls, as he made a slow start but picked up the pace in the middle stages and looked poised for a big score until run out during the second batting powerplay.
Jono Hickey gave the ND innings late impetus with a sweetly-struck 32 off only 27 balls as the hosts tallied 86 off the last 10 overs.
"Jono's was a very good innings in the context of the game that got that momentum back for us," Watling said.
The win saw the Knights climb to second in the table, a point behind the Aces after three matches.