Top job now within reach for Blundell
It’s great preparation, if you’re talking high pressure cricketing job interviews. Tom Blundell spent the winter eyeballing his closest rival and got a sneak peek of India, as the Black Caps wicketkeeping race heats up.
On Tuesday it gets real when New Zealand A and their three glovemen board the plane to India, with a place beckoning in Twenty20 and one-day internationals against Virat Kohli’s side next month.
Essentially it’s New Zealand’s version of Wicketkeeper Idol, after Luke Ronchi’s retirement. BJ Watling has the test gloves parcelled up, Tom Latham remains an ODI option, but with nine home T20 internationals this summer the lucky winner out of Blundell, Tim Seifert and Glenn Phillips is set for an extended run.
At 27, Blundell is ready and relaxed about this race to the top. The Wellington wicketkeeper-batsman was the frontrunner last season: named in New Zealand A for the Pakistan washout, a T20 international debut against Bangladesh then a callup to the ODI squad to face Australia. Latham was preferred, was tidy with the gloves but couldn’t buy a run with the bat.
‘‘Debuting was fantastic to get a taste of it and be around that squad against the Aussies, you definitely want more,’’ Blundell said.
Ronchi’s been a massive influence on Blundell, and his retirement also signalled time for NZ Cricket to get serious about schooling their glovemen. Blundell, Seifert and Phillips, when he wasn’t over at the Caribbean Premier League, all worked with former fringe international Martyn Croy who will accompany them to India, too.
It’s an interesting situation; vying for one spot and spending all your off-season with your nearest rival, working out their strengths and weaknesses and potentially helping them improve.
‘‘I’ll let my performance do the talking and if I’m good enough, I’m good enough. I get on pretty well with them both. They’re both really good blokes so if one of them gets the nod [for New Zealand] I’ll be happy for them.’’
Blundell got a jumpstart on his rivals in July with his first trip to India, when he accompanied the Hutt Hawks club run by Ravi Krishnamurthy on their annual tour. Some of the club pitches turned square, the ball either keeping low or bouncing at head height.
‘‘It was a great learning curve on how to adapt,’’ Blundell said.
He’s been adapting for a while, Blundell, after he made New Zealand under-19 as a batsman and part-time gloveman and offspinner (he snared his only first-class wicket, Daryl Mitchell, last season).
Calling him an accidental wicketkeeper might be harsh, but Blundell didn’t grow up wanting to be the next Adam Parore or Brendon McCullum. Former Wellington gloveman Joe Austin-Smellie’s early retirement was a catalyst.
‘‘I saw an opportunity to make the Wellington team and thought if I worked hard on my keeping who knows where it could take me?’’
His former coach at Karori, Glenn Pocknall, is now the Firebirds’ assistant and is adamant Blundell is ready.
‘‘We look at the other keepers and compare notes as to where we think Tom is. We may be biased but we think he’s better than the other two. Others might have different ideas but the beauty of this tour is it’s an opportunity for him to achieve what we think he can achieve,’’ Pocknall said.
‘‘It’s been pretty cool to see the guy develop; technically, mentally and as a person [in the past decade]. The thing that sets Tom apart from a lot of his agegroup peers is he’s got that inner determination and drive. You don’t see it, and he doesn’t talk about it, but he’s got it.’’
Slick glovework might be one thing, but if the contenders aren’t scoring runs then they’re no chance.
It’s clear if you’re taking the gloves for New Zealand, you need to bat as high as possible. And give the ball a thump.
Phillips is the most part-time gloveman of the three but his T20 feats for Auckland in the Super Smash - leading runscorer with 369 at a strike rate of 143 - rocketed him into a T20 debut against South Africa. Blundell was good in the Firebirds’ title charge, scoring 243 at a strike rate of 134, while Seifert scored just 113 for the Knights, strike rate 108.
‘‘It’s just consistency and knowing my own game. I’ve worked so hard on it throughout the years and I understand it a bit more, especially in T20 I’ve got all the shots so it’s just about watching the ball and backing myself,’’ said Blundell, who averages 39 in first-class cricket.
‘‘I’m not going to hit the ball over the fence most of the time. I’ve got to figure out how to look for the boundary and that innovation comes into play with the lap shots.’’
New Zealand A, under head coach Shane Bond, play two four-day matches and five 50-over matches from September 23 till October 15.
Wellington gloveman Tom Blundell hopes to follow in the footsteps of Luke Ronchi and be the Black Caps’ new wicketkeeper-batsman in limited overs cricket.