Blackcaps vs Bangladesh: The Rise Of Aotearoa's Test Specialists

While they would all rather be playing more international fixtures for Aotearoa, the Blackcaps Test trio of Neil Wagner, Jeet Raval and BJ Watling aren't exactly in the worst spot. That means no ODI or T20I match payments from NZC, however these three still have NZC contracts and a consistent dosh coming in, as well as match payments from their various domestic cricket outings.

One would assume that match payments between domestic and international fixtures differ greatly, although the vibe I'm getting is that NZC has sussed some sort of good will directed towards these Test-only players. That's merely my belief and not backed up by any concrete information as I simply believe it's wise to look after your Test cricketers if you significantly decrease the number of Tests played. I've got no idea what 'look after' means, ensuring that these three have NZC contracts would be a good example though.

Extrapolate that idea out a wee bit further; the three lads who play the least cricket for Aotearoa, have NZC contracts and those contracts will be in the same general bracket as those who play all formats. The difference is in the match payments and when you actually meditate on the idea, it's kinda bonkers that Wagner, Raval and Watling are full-time players given they play for Aotearoa 4-6 times a year.

Weird huh? That's the good vibes though and this shift in thinking around Test cricket has seen Wagner, Raval and Watling play an interesting amount of domestic cricket over the last two summers. I have a brewing idea about the nek level depth of kiwi cricket considering the amount of Blackcaps currently playing domestic cricket and then the names with plenty of domestic experience who are playing 'A' fixtures.

Central Districts Stags have Brad Schmulian, Christian Leopard, Dean Foxcroft (Hawkes Bay coming up against Josh Clarkson, Willem Ludick and Felix Murray (Nelson) in the Hawke Cup right now. All those lads have domestic experience and as they are other the youngish variety, they have long domestic futures ahead of them - they ain't playing Plunket Shield though.

That's almost as crazy as playing a few Tests to earn your NZC contract. Both are lovely though and if that means more of Wagner steaming in to bowl at a young batsman or a bustling seamer having to deal with Raval's precision leaves, glorious. The purpose of this exercie though is to lay down any funky observations from the domestic performances of Wagner, Raval and Watling.

For Wagner and Raval, there's a wee bit more funk stemming from their Blackcaps performances. Those first innings efforts against Bangladesh were nice, not exceptionally amazing though outside of Raval getting over the superficial century hump. The Blackcaps are playing Bangladesh in Aotearoa, such performances from the Blackcaps bullies should be expected now. I'm more interested in their work over a longer period and we'll set the date on Cricinfo to November 1st, 2017 prior to Test cricket being given the flick for the bulk of the following summers.

Raval is averaging 33.81 in that period, slightly down on his overall career average of 38.91. In this period, Raval is averaging 41 in Aotearoa, meaning his average was stripped down by a lean series in United Arab Emirates.

Wagner is averaging 25.84, better than his career average of 28.28. This is the same story as Raval as Wagner's averaging 24.43 in Aotearoa during this period and 40 overseas (UAE).

Watling is averaging a respectable 35.50 in this period, a smidge down on his career average of 35.50. As Watling's experience and role is best suited to performing in UAE, his stats in Aotearoa and UAE are effectively the same.

Don't buzz about the lack of overseas Tests as it may look crazy that they've only been on one overseas excursion, but the two kiwi summers amount to one winter and thus one window for an overseas series. The two kiwi summers is notable for this exercise because it's two summers of domestic cricket for these three Test specialists. The above numbers throw any idea of a lack of Tests resulting in the performances of Wagner, Raval and Watling taking a dip; overall they are better.

Here are there respective domestic numbers across all formats from these two seasons and if I don't have their stats, it's because they either didn't play enough games or rack up enough wickets/runs to get in the top-40. Thus, those stats aren't funky enough.

Neil Wagner

Super Smash 17/18: 5w @ 44.20avg/11.53rpo.

Super Smash 18/19: 3w @ 41.33avg/8.26rpo.

Ford Trophy 17/18: Nada.

Ford Trophy 18/19: Nada.

Plunket Shield 17/18: 24w @ 26.54avg/2.75rpo.

Plunket Shield 18/19: 12w @ 18.66avg/2.86rpo.

Insight

Wagner has horrible Super Smash numbers, his Plunket Shield work and Test performances align nicely though.

Jeet Raval

Super Smash 17/18: Nada.

Super Smash 18/19: Nada.

Ford Trophy 17/18: 302 runs @ 43.14avg/81.40sr.

Ford Trophy 18/19: Nada.

Plunket Shield 17/18: 232 runs @ 19.33avg/34.16sr.

Plunket Shield 18/19: 171 runs @ 42.75avg/53.27.

Inisght

Raval played a key role in Auckland Aces winning the Ford Trophy last season, after a crap Plunket Shield. After Raval's crap Plunket Shield in which Wagner scored more runs than Raval (!!), Raval went straight into a series vs West Indies in which he scored 42, 84 and 4. Given Raval's ups and downs in domestic cricket and then how little they impact his Test performances, it's foolish to draw any correlation between domestic and Test work in the future for Raval.

Who knows why Raval's domestic stuff is so volatile across the formats, all that matters is that he does his job as a Test opener.

BJ Watling

Super Smash 17/18: Nada.

Super Smash 18/19: Nada.

Ford Trophy 17/18: 304 runs @ 38avg/78.35sr.

Ford Trophy 18/19: Nada.

Plunket Shield 17/18: 242 runs @ 26.88avg/51.82sr.

Plunket Shield 18/19: Nada.

Insight

Watling does whatever he wants, including offering opinions on who the Blackcaps coach is.

Other than Wagner's Plunket Shield dominance being in alignment with his Test performances, there is little overall connection between the domestic and Test work of these three (Watling and Raval obviously). This will most likely be because they have all been on the circuit for a long time, building knowledge of their game and preparation to best prepare them for this situation.

Having a younger lad play limited domestic cricket, around minimal Test cricket (4-5 Tests a summer) would be less than ideal. It's difficult to come up with an example, given that there aren't many lads who have been identified as Test specialist options. Will Young is the next-up Test batsman, however he is genuinely capable of having a multi-format international future; I reckon he'll slot in for Ross Taylor when the king retires.

That experience is important in earning this fairy lovely situation. Earning your stripes, paying your dues and all those other important rite of passage ideals is what this is based on. There is no way, NZC is handing out a contract to a fresh domestic player who will only play Test cricket and all three of these current Test specialists have earned their way to this point.

They also perform, which is probably more important. Wagner is the best Test seamer in Aotearoa, based on wickets and Raval is one of the two best Test openers in Aotearoa. Both are irreplaceable in the Test team right now and they aren't just performing, they are building the gap between them and those hunting for their Test spots.

It's clear that Watling is in a nice spot with NZC, however he is the most intriguing when pondering this whole situation. I said on the latest Niche Cast that Watling will soon be overtaken as the number one wicket-keeper/batsman at Northern Districts Knights - just a crazy thought to keep an eye on.

Tim Seifert (3rd in Plunket Shield runs last summer, averaging 43.66 this summer) won't be the only youngster hunting for Watling's spot. CD's Dane Cleaver is currently 3rd in Plunket Shield runs (56avg) with an overall First Class average of 41.07, while Canterbury's Cameron Fletcher is 5th in runs (45.87avg). Not to mention guys like Tom Blundell and Glenn Phillips (sometimes Aces wicket-keeper) to build a crowded wicket-keeper depth chart.

Watling is the most in danger of losing his Test spot and thus, shaking up his contract situation. The status-quo will remain for at least another home summer and Watling may retire before the pressure starts to build - a decision that wil be tough as he's giving up his luxurious contract/playing situation. Unlike Raval and Wagner, Watling is a Test specialist who is facing increasing competition for his Test spot and this will be a low key narrative to follow in coming seasons.

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