The 29-year-old wicketkeeper has a knee injury which prevented him from donning the gloves at Headingley but he was picked as a specialist batsman and repaid the selectors' faith with his fifth Test century.
“He is a gritty little character, he can bat anywhere in the order,” New Zealand opener Martin Guptill told Sky Sports after making a fine 70 himself.
“When Watling gets going he can really get big scores.”
The match was finely poised at the end of the second day but New Zealand fast bowler Tim Southee took three early wickets on the third morning to swing the momentum New Zealand's way.
Although England recovered to match their opponents' first-innings score of 350, Guptill, Ross Taylor, Watling and Brendon McCullum batted superbly to make New Zealand strong favourites to level the series at 1-1.
“With the way the guys batted it turned out to be a pretty good day for us,” Southee told the BBC.
“BJ Watling is just a gutsy, determined player and it's nice to see him get the rewards for the hard work he puts in.
“If you'd said yesterday afternoon that we would end the day in the position that we are we would have grabbed it with both hands.”
England bowling coach Otis Gibson admitted it had been a difficult day for the hosts, who won the first test at Lord's by 124 runs to lift spirits ahead of the home Ashes series against Australia.
“The Kiwis have put us under pressure with their attacking cricket and we haven't been as good as we can be,” Gibson said.
“We've played ourselves into a hole, but there's still a lot of time left in this game.
“As a bowling unit we try to bowl dot balls and create pressure and they haven't allowed us to do that,” he added.
Stuart Broad took two early wickets and Mark Wood claimed three victims on his second test appearance.
“Stuart Broad knows his game inside out and we've been working on his mentality more than anything else, how to get players out when the ball is not swinging and stuff like that,” Gibson said.
“Mark Wood is young, raw, full of energy and he's quite skilful as you saw when he got Brendon McCullum out.” – Reuters
Original source: Injured knee doesn’t bother Watling