One does not need to speak about the amount of hard work and dedication required to make it to the national side. It’s like a dream come true and no words can express the joy of donning the national jersey. For Tom Blundell, it was a dream come true when he received his Test cap at Wellington for the first Test against West Indies and the wicketkeeper-batsman ensured he made it a big one.
To say that a debutant is under immense pressure, would be an understatement. He has to justify his selection and leave a good first impression. After doing a fine job with the gloves, Blundell garnered some crucial runs to steer his side to total command. West Indies were cleaned up for 134 in the first innings, New Zealand had a solid opportunity to tighten the noose around them. After some solid performances by the Ross Taylor, Colin de Grandhomme and Henry Nicholls, it was Blundell’s chance to make an impact. He sensed an opportunity and cashed in with an emphatic ton.
First and foremost, Tom Blundell was not even a part of New Zealand’s scheme of things. BJ Watling was always going to be their first choice as a wicketkeeper-batsman. But his failure to recuperate with the hip injury on time chiselled the path for Blundell and the 27-year-old ensured he grabbed it with both the hands.
It was a dream come true for Blundell and he was quoted in a report from NZheral.co.nz saying, “I had countless times dreaming I’d play for New Zealand and at the Basin, on my home ground.”
“I always visualised me doing that in the past, but it was a relief. There were a lot of family on the bank. It’s a proud day for all my family to be there, that’s pretty special,” he added.
Selector Davis Larsen was quoted by HindustanTimes saying, “The chance to play his first Test at his home ground is going to be really special for him. Tom’s worked hard on his game and we’ve seen his wicketkeeping in particular really develop over the past 12 months.”
By the time Blundell walked into bat, New Zealand had extended their lead to 147, with the side being 281 for six. This was quite a tricky situation, another steady partnership would have put West Indies in all sorts of trouble while a wicket here would have exposed the tail. Colin de Grandhomme looked in good touch for the eight balls he had faced by the time Blundell had arrived.
Grandhomme launched an attack on the West Indies bowlers and came out all guns blazing. Grandhomme blazed his way to a 74-ball hundred, which was also the ninth fastest century in the history of Test cricket. By the time, Grandhomme was dismissed, Blundell had reached the 50-run landmark.
At times, a batsman does get carried away by the way his non-striker is batting. But Blundell did well and stuck to his guns, he kept his cool and played his natural game. The tail was wide open and lead had extended to 295, but Blundell didn’t give up.
Matt Henry and Neil Wagner were dismissed in quick successions, Blundell was running out of partners when the last man Trent Boult joined him. He resumed batting on Day 3 with 57 runs to his name and a determined Boult at the other end. Not many would have expected Blundell to score a ton from this juncture, he had to start all over again on Day 3 morning.
Blundell stitched a record 78-run stand with Boult to see his side post a massive total on the board. He scored his maiden Test ton on debut and also became the 11th Kiwi player to have achieved the 100-run milestone on debut. He also became the first wicketkeeper-batsman from his country to have achieved the milestone. He didn’t fumble in the nervous nineties and showed good intent, which is remarkable for a debutant. Batting with the tail is an art, which Blundell exhibited nicely. He trusted his partner, the fact that Boult confronted 60 deliveries for his unbeaten 18 corroborates the belief.
With New Zealand’s regular wicketkeeper Watling scoring a century in a List A encounter for Northern Districts, the side will certainly be in a dilemma for the second Test over the wicketkeeping option. But it’s a pleasant headache to have. Well, fitness will most probably win this race, but one shouldn’t be surprised if the side sticks with Blundelll for the next game. He has done enough to to get another opportunity. He has the ingredients and the right temperament to achieve success against the red ball, and the signs are promising.