A gritty BJ Watling, New Zealand’s go-to man when the batting is in trouble, produced an unbeaten century to put the Black Caps ahead of England in the first innings of the opening Test on Saturday.

After rescuing his country as he has done many times in the past, Watling was at a loss to explain his ability to produce his best when New Zealand are in trouble.

“It just kind of happens” he offered at stumps on day three in Mount Maunganui, after guiding the Kiwis to 394/6 to lead England by 41.

“I love scoring hundreds for New Zealand and I really enjoyed that one,” he said. “I know I didn’t want to field today... so that was driving me. “I think I’m very limited and try and play to how I know best works for me.”

He toiled under a blazing sun for almost seven hours to notch his eighth Test century and pull New Zealand up from a precarious 197/5 with an unbeaten 119.

Watling has now been involved in three of the six best New Zealand partnerships for the sixth-wicket.

He scored 124 when partnering Brendon McCullum in a 352-run stand – then a sixth-wicket world record – to save a Test against India in 2014.

The following year he broke that record in a 365-run effort with Kane Williamson against Sri Lanka, and a few months later scored a century at Leeds in a famous win against England.

Against Sri Lanka in August, New Zealand won the second Test to square the series when Watling scored an unbeaten 105 in a 113-run sixth-wicket stand with Colin de Grandhomme.

Much of Watling’s innings-saving mission was in partnership with de Grandhomme in a 119-run stand for the sixth wicket and followed by an unbroken 78 with Mitchell Santner, who was 31 not out at stumps.

When de Grandhomme joined Watling after the dismissal of Henry Nicholls for 41 before lunch, New Zealand’s top five were out and they were still 156 runs behind England’s 353.

The tourists were feeling they were heading for a comfortable first innings lead, but Watling patiently chipped away at the deficit. De Grandhomme, meanwhile, characteristically punished anything loose – with a six and seven fours as he raced to 65.

With AFP Inputs