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Watling Embraces Thankless Task

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Watling Embraces Thankless Task

By Chris Barclay of NZPA Napier, Dec 9 NZPA - BJ Watling was calm enough to at least talk a good game in the lead-up to his inheriting one of New Zealand cricket's most thankless and seemingly forlorn tasks at test level.

The 24-year-old appeared unfazed at becoming half of the 30th opening combination tried, mostly without success, by New Zealand's selectors since 2000. The South Africa-born right hander was 14 and playing school cricket in Tokoroa when Craig Spearman and Matt Horne ushered in the new millennium at Eden Park against Australia.

About that time Watling started dreaming the standard `I want to play for New Zealand' fantasy of most boys his age. His progression through age group teams and a senior debut for Northern Districts in the 2004-05 season saw imagination verge on reality.

"It started when I was playing in Midlands and Tokoroa and stuff, I started dreaming about it then. Gradually I made it through the grades and once I made ND it became what I wanted to do," said Watling, who left South Africa aged 10.

Asked what would constitute a dream debut against Pakistan in the series decider at McLean Park from Friday, Watling played along, nominating a score of 150 before tempering expectations.

"I think it's pretty obvious, just a good solid game would be ideal. I just want to go out there and give it my best."

Watling had his first net session with the test side today and although a relative unknown among a list of domestic openers batsmen featuring former internationals Craig Cumming, Matthew Bell, Jamie How and Michael Papps, he has already tasted life on the road with New Zealand -- against Pakistan. He made his debut at Twenty20 level in Dubai last month, making 22 and seven against an attack admittedly missing Pakistan's chief destroyer in this series, Mohammad Asif.

The dangerous medium-fast bowler did play against Watling's Invitation 11 in the tour opener, though they never went head-to-head. "I never faced him but I saw a bit of him in Queenstown and got an idea of what he does. I watched a bit of the test matches, obviously."

Watling caught snatches of the first two tests, though Plunket Shield commitments with ND meant he was spared witnessing some of the torment his new teammates experienced at the crease

"I haven't taken a lot of notice. We've been playing up north (in Auckland) so I'm just worried about my things.

"I'm working on playing the ball late, good leaving and good positive intent."

That message was reinforced by selector Mark Greatbatch, who assembled the batting unit in a circle at before training today for a heart-to-heart.

"We had a chat, trying to work out a few things," he said, adding the basis of Greatbatch's message was "`get out there, show your intent and show what you're capable of'."

Watling's most recent innings was a 136 against Auckland last week, the attack was well below test standard but at least the experience put him in a sound head space. "I feel good at the crease, I'm moving well and I'm feeling good about my game," he said.

Watling has never batted with incumbent opener Tim McIntosh before, and New Zealand will be hoping they have plenty of time to get acquainted given the longest partnership of this series between the Aucklander and new No 3 Martin Guptill spanned four runs and 11 balls at the Basin Reserve.

However, Pakistan fast bowler Umar Gul forecast more problems for the New Zealand batting unit, regardless of Watling's introduction.

"Only Ross Taylor is in good form, the rest of them are struggling," he said. "We'll trap them again and hopefully get them out early."

Meanwhile, fast bowler Iain O'Brien reinjured the finger he dislocated during the first test during fielding drills today. He was cleared of serious damage and should take a full part in New Zealand's final practice tomorrow ahead of his final test before moving to England. 

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