HEAVY HITTING BLOWS, MATE AGAINST MATE, FIGHTING FOR THEIR PRIDE.
Well, no. It’s not a Channel 9 State of Origin promo. I’m Dev, my mate’s Dan, and we both write for Mind the Windows!
Surely it was only sensible to combine ideas and resources? Actually no, the idea had to come from Dan’s girlfriend. But that’s unimportant. Dev vs Dan is going to be a semi-regular (I say ‘semi’ because we’re both hopeless when it comes to regularity) piece on the site where the two of us debate. At the bottom of the page, a poll will decide which of the two of us has succeeded in arguing our point.
For our first piece, we’ve taken opposing views on the issue of the England v New Zealand Test series – or, more specifically, the wicket-keepers involved. With BJ Watling and Jos Buttler both instrumental to their team’s cause, which one is the better player? And most importantly, who will have the biggest impact on this series?
Although we both agree, one of us has taken the role of Devil’s Advocate (anonymity on that front makes you judge the pieces equally). So have a read through our arguments, and then vote: who wins? Dev or Dan? BJ or Jos?
In the response to this piece, Dan McGrath will set about trying to defend Jos Buttler’s glovemanship and untested batting.
He will be, at best, drawing a long bow. Because while the two wicket-keepers will certainly be one of the biggest factors in which side succeeds in the two Tests, New Zealand’s BJ Watling is so far ahead of Buttler that it’s frankly silly.
Watling made his debut for New Zealand back in 2009, as a specialist batsman. In those days, he was a specialist batsman at all levels. Peter McGlashan had a well-deserved mortgage on the Northern Districts gloves in the Plunket Shield.
But when New Zealand Cricket came calling, and suggested that perhaps the gloves should go to Watling, the Durban-born lad stepped up to the plate.
While injury stifled his initial entrance into the New Zealand wicket-keeping role (seeing him replaced by Reece Young and Kruger van Wyk), he eventually came back to his new job in January 2013 and has held firmly onto his role ever since.
Since then, he’s played 21 of New Zealand’s 22 Tests (missing one through injury) and has ‘kept in the lot. He’s observed thrashings at the hands of South Africa and England, seen the development of Boult and Southee as an opening pair, and watched New Zealand rise to be a Test-class team.
With a safe pair of hands, momentary flashes of brilliance with the gloves, and a highly-astute tactical mind, Watling has been integral to New Zealand’s bowling and fielding performance.
And that neglects Watling’s other facet – his batsmanship. In 30 years from now, Watling’s shepherding of the tail will be remembered with the rose-tinted, cult-hero glasses on. He’s averaged 40.60 with the bat since his reintroduction to the side, and has made his contributions truly count.
In his first series back, when South Africa relentlessly hammered New Zealand in two Tests in January 2013, Watling made two 63s and a 42.
To put this in context, his 168 runs over the two Tests was only four short of NZ’s top run-scorer, Dean Brownlie.
And it was double the third-top, Brendon McCullum, who made a total of 82 runs.
When England toured New Zealand in March 2013, Watling had a poor run with the bat, but made runs when it counted. With New Zealand 89/5 and staring down the barrel of defeat at the Basin Reserve, Watling added 100 with Brendon McCullum, and then another 50 with Tim Southee and Bruce Martin to pull New Zealand to an eventual 254 – and a drawn Test.
Against India, in early 2014, Watling had failed three times in three innings. Talks were starting to mount that maybe he wasn’t the saviour after all. With New Zealand 94/5, India looked certain to draw the series 1-1.
At 446/6, Watling’s dismissal was rather excusable. Watling had accrued 124 runs, and set a new sixth-wicket partnership with Brendon McCullum.
That he did the same vs. the West Indies in the West Indies, and then again against Sri Lanka too surprised no one. His 142* against the Sri Lankans broke the sixth-wicket record he’d set a year earlier.
BJ Watling is the kind of man who steps up when the team needs him most. Solid with bat and gloves, his moments of brilliance rise to the fore exactly when New Zealand needs him. Don’t be surprised when he does it at Lord’s and Headingley.
VOTE FOR DEV AND BJ WATLING AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PAGE
Devon makes some good points in the defense of BJ Watling. His shepherding of the tail is, indeed, incredibly valuable. He is a specialist batsman as well as a wicketkeeper, a man who would be pushing for a middle order position even if the very thought of fielding with gloves confounded him. But, unintentionally, he proves my very argument within his piece. In this head-to-head, it is the performance of Jos Buttler that could change the outcome of this series.
I will not attempt to argue that Buttler is a better Test-match batsman in the here-and-now. I will not argue he’s a better gloveman. So far in his career he hasn’t made tough runs, has rarely needed to shepherd the tail. My point is simple.
BJ Watling saves matches. Jos Buttler turns them.
Basin Reserve 2013. New Zealand are 89/5 in response to England’s 465. Watling makes 60, McCullum 69. New Zealand follow on. Drawn match.
Basin Reserve 2014. New Zealand are 94/5 in their second innings, still about 200 runs away from making India bat again. Watling makes 124. McCullum 302. Drawn match.
Basin Reserve 2015. New Zealand are 159/5 in their second innings, in the lead but not by much. Watling makes 142*, Williamson 242*. This one is a New Zealand win.
BJ Watling is the perennial support batsman; he grinds out tough runs when the team needs them, and that is valuable. But rearguards at the Basin Reserve against bowling attacks of questionable quality are one thing. Winning matches at Lord’s, against Anderson and Broad on their own turf, is another thing entirely.
Enter Jos Buttler.
When he replaced Matt Prior in 2014, he put India to the sword in Southampton. 85 runs from 83 balls rammed home the advantage created by England’s quality-but-one-dimensional middle order, absolutely demoralising the Indian bowling attack. It was Gilchrist-esque, taking a strong position and making it unassailable, and leaving no shortage of time in the game to set up a second innings declaration and bowl India out cheaply in their second innings.
A composed 70 in his next match, this one of many more balls faced, showed that he could hang around and provide valuable support to his top order. His first overseas match featured a half-century in quick time to once more set up a declaration. Alas, the bowlers could not complete the victory, as Jason Holder denied England the match through sheer force of will late on Day 5.
And now we look to the third Test of that series, and the one I believe has the most relevance to this upcoming Test. It’s the second innings, England have the advantage but have collapsed to hand it back entirely. Buttler enters proceedings at 6/62, with a sub-100 total on the cards. Buttler slams 35 from 42, remaining unbeaten as the rest of his team fall around him. He takes England to 123, a lead of 192. It was now vaguely defensible. It isn’t a situation new to Buttler; his ODI reputation has been built on taking sub-par platforms and turning them into defensible scores with his individual brilliance.
If New Zealand bowl to their potential in early-summer conditions, collapses will be rife. It is Jos Buttler who can cause the most damage, make the greatest impact, as those around him fall in a series widely-predicted to be dominated by the blood-red leather.
And if New Zealand do not meet expectations with the ball? If the willow proves up to the task? Well, provide him with a platform from which to launch and Buttler only gets scarier — and no bowler can stop him. Jos Buttler, not Watling, can turn this series.
VOTE FOR DAN AND JOS BUTTLER BELOW