Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
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Former New Zealand wicketkeeper-batter BJ Watling has been appointed Wellington Firebirds' white-ball head coach, ahead of the upcoming domestic season. This will be the 36-year-old's first role as head coach of a senior side, having been in charge of the Northern Districts A side after playing his last Test against India in the WTC final in June 2021.
Watling takes over from Glenn Pocknall, who had coached Wellington to titles in all three formats and even had a stint with the New Zealand national side for a tour of Bangladesh last year, when Gary Stead was absent. Pocknall will now lead Cricket Wellington's talent acceleration programme, which aims at producing more players for the men's and women's national sides.
While Watling will oversee the one-day and T20 teams, Bruce Edgar, the former New Zealand batter and selector, will take charge of the red-ball side. The 65-year-old will also serve as Cricket Wellington's director of cricket until the end of 2022-23. The dual role marks his return to the Wellington set-up since stepping down as Wellington's head coach at the end of the 2018-19 season.
Watling said that transitioning from playing to coaching was something that was always on his agenda. Since his retirement, Watling has been active as Northern Districts' network coach in the Waikato. He even assisted Northern Brave men during their triumphant Super Smash campaign.
"To be honest - for the whole way through - I kind of have been planning for this," Watling said during a virtual media interaction. "Been doing whatever ones and twos and what not throughout playing and probably started my network coaching three or four or five years ago with ND [Northern Districts] here. So it has always been on the backburner. Obviously, once I retired I started to dive in a bit more."
Watling shrugged off any apprehensions around his quick elevation to the head coach's role, less than a year after he retired, and looked forward to working with Edgar and Toby Radford, who has also joined the Wellington support staff as a specialist batting coach.
Notably, Radford was West Indies' batting coach when they won the 2012 T20 World Cup and recently worked as the head of high performance in Bangladesh. Radford was also England Under-19s batting coach at the 2022 Under-19 World Cup in the Caribbean, where they finished runners-up.
"Not yet [apprehensive]. I'm quite excited to be fair," Watling said. "It is something that might have come in a little bit early, but I'm definitely ready for the challenge and looking forward to working with what I see as a very talented young group and core senior players as well and some Black Caps. It looks like a fantastic squad to be in charge of, especially in the white-ball stuff, and I can't wait to get stuck in.
"[My role is] to lead and I'll try to do that through my attitude. I know I will get a good little preparation time with Bruce in charge there. I will have some good learning off him and obviously Toby as well - two very experienced coaches I can lean on and use throughout the season. I plan on doing that and basically connecting with the playing group and staff will be the first priority and trying to find my feet at Wellington."
Watling said he would also draw motivation from the success of countrymen Brendon McCullum, Stephen Fleming and Daniel Vettori who are all now active coaches in top-flight cricket.
"It's great to see the boys out there coaching," Watling said. "Obviously, recently was exciting to see him [McCullum] get the England role. I know he will do a fantastic job. I've kept an eye on Flem with the Chennai Super Kings there [IPL]. Yeah, I guess that has inspired me, but throughout my career, I love cricket and I'm passionate about the game and I'm really looking forward to get back."
Cricket Wellington CEO Cam Mitchell was confident of Watling making an impact at the province as coach.
"We have no doubt that BJ will be a successful elite coach, and we are pleased to be able to help support his career development," Mitchell said in a Cricket Wellington statement.
"His work ethic, strong values and recent playing experience will be so valuable for our young playing group, and his strong track-record of success as a player shows what we are trying to achieve."