Cricket: Watling notices shift in intensity

BJ Watling plays a shot during the third day of the first cricket test between New Zealand and...
BJ Watling plays a shot during the third day of the first cricket test between New Zealand and South Africa in Cape Town. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings
It was a case of duck, bob and weave as New Zealand set about trying to be competitive with the bat in this week's second test against South Africa at Port Elizabeth.

Having talked about ways of making life uncomfortable for the batsmen ahead of their giant task to become competitive, their bowlers ramped up the heat at Newlands yesterday.

The bouncers were flying and the batsmen had their mettle tested.

The question is how much benefit they will get ahead of squaring off against Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and - if he is over his latest hamstring drama - Vernon Philander, the best seam team in the business.

Captain Brendon McCullum was forced to take rapid evasive action more than once as New Zealand's fast-medium bowlers cranked up the heat.

Both Neil Wagner and Mitchell McClenaghan, who missed the first test, impressed after the first test seamers had gone through their paces.

If you look for omens out of practice sessions, the fact that the entire test attack from the innings and 27-run loss inside three days got first bowling dibs while Wagner and McClenaghan had to bide their time sitting on the ground might give food for thought.

The other all-too-obvious aspect of the batting was that spinner Jeetan Patel was all at sea against the faster bowlers. He had the jitters against the speedster Steyn on the third and final day of the first test.

He looks as if he's lost his nerve against the short-pitched flier.

By contrast, wicketkeeper BJ Watling was among the more impressive batsmen in the first test, his gritty 42 in 211 minutes, and off 151 balls was a pretty resolute hand.

"We know what we're up against now," Watling said.

"Definitely there was a noticeable lift in intensity, and we're looking to be better for it."

Watling had a longer look at the South African attack than all bar century-maker Dean Brownlie. He had scored a first-ball duck in the first innings and admitted at times like that ''you do doubt yourself a bit".

"It's about getting in the challenge and finding a way to achieve something," the 27-year-old Northern Districts gloveman said.

"For me it's about finding my defensive patterns, getting under the ball and figuring out solid positions to get me going.

"Obviously in the next test we might need runs a bit quicker and you have to find positions where going to pick them up."

Watling did give himself a confidence boost with his second innings but knows he needs a lot more.

Three days after the second test starts, Australian returnee Luke Ronchi becomes eligible to play for the country of his birth.

He is rated by knowledgeable observers as the best allround wicketkeeper-batsmen in the country.

So having overtaken Kruger van Wyk for this trip, Watling needs to be on his mettle for future challenges.

''There's a little bit of confidence there. I definitely believe I can do it; it's just about doing it, and for longer again," he said of his batting effort.

''Hopefully I can keep improving with gloves, doing a good job there and I need to get more runs than I did in that test. It's a lift I need to get to."

In nine tests, he is averaging 28.71, but if he is to stay at No 6 in the batting order, that's got to rise, especially if Ronchi is on his tail and in the selectors' thinking.

- David Leggat of the NZ Herald in Cape Town

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