Watling, Ronchi or both?

This post was originally written in December 2012, during the Plunket Shield match between Wellington and Northern Districts at Karori Park. It has not been edited to reflect Bj Watling’s strong form on the New Zealand tour of South Africa.

An interesting subplot in New Zealand domestic cricket developed in Wellington today. Luke Ronchi and BJ Watling are effectively battling for a spot, and Ronchi won a significant skirmish. His diving catch to dismiss his rival off the bowling of Hutchinson was a spectacular effort. The significance should not be lost. A keeper batsman has beaten a batsman keeper.

New Zealand has rarely had such a vacancy at keeper in tests. They now have two players who could lay claim to the spot, but each would play the role very differently. Ronchi comes as a ready-made keeper first and foremost. The ex Australian international has always played as a keeper, and this is telling in his performance of the role. Not only did his work dismiss a dangerous looking Watling, he also held a number of other solid catches. His eligibility is however yet to be confirmed, and will not occur until January next year.

Watling comes less well prepared as a keeper. What he does have in his favour is that he is an excellent batsman, and almost definitely improving. His run of good scores in the limited overs matches in Sri Lanka surely justified his inclusion in the test squad, especially when compared to the incumbent Van Wyk. His work behind the stumps is somewhat makeshift, and might falter at crucial moments. He deserves this chance against South Africa, but has to take it. With soft hands and good footwork preferably.

There is a chance that both will be included, and that’s not a bad idea. Not a lot of batting slots are necessarily nailed down in the test team. Guptill at the top, Franklin in the middle, Watling could well replace either. Not to mention the fact that the two best batsmen in the country aren’t playing for the Black Caps at the moment.

Ronchi however must be given a chance in Van Wyk’s position when that becomes possible. His game behind the stumps gives the fielding team composure. The experience of making the Australian side is notoriously difficult. Hussey only made the team at 30. Ronchi wasn’t spectacular in the Australian team, but his game is very solid. He is now in the prime of his career too, and it is his last roll of the dice as a professional. If he gets into the team he would no doubt battle just as hard, if not harder for his spot. There is also no going past his average of 55 for the season so far.

Watling would not be an embarrassment in the field, far from it. Much of his career has been spent there, only recently has he been called upon as the first choice keeper consistently. He’s pretty good as a backup, but keeping doesn’t seem quite so instinctual to him as it does Ronchi. A keeper needs to be top class at test level, because a few moments of excellent cricket behind the stumps can win innings and matches. Often the worth of a quality keeper is more than that of a batsman who can keep.

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