Wicketkeeper Tom Blundell is set to make his debut in the first Test against West Indies on December 1. With BJ Watling unavailable due to a hip injury, Blundell will be drafted into New Zealand's XI to play in front of his hometown fans at the Basin Reserve. Pace bowler Lockie Ferguson, too, joined the squad as cover for Tim Southee, who is expecting the birth of his child.
Selector Gavin Larsen said Blundell's improvement with the gloves over the past year has earned him a promotion. Less than two weeks ago, he picked up 10 catches in Wellington's victory over Canterbury in the Plunket Shield
"Tom's worked hard on his game and we've seen his wicketkeeping in particular really develop over the past 12 months," Larsen said. "The chance to play his first Test at his home ground is going to be really special for him. BJ is still working his way back to full fitness and hopefully he gets some time with the gloves for Northern Districts soon."
New Zealand coach Mike Hesson lauded Blundell's consistency - both with the gloves and the bat - over the past two seasons in the Plunket Shield, and backed him to chip in with significant performances on his Test debut.
"He's showed over the end of last year and the start of this year that he's probably the most consistent gloveman behind BJ in the country at the moment. Going into a Test match, that's the priority," Hesson told stuff.co.nz. "He's equally comfortable standing back, as he is up [by the stumps]. He's becoming experienced and knows his own game. He's scored tough runs and he's scored runs when his side [Wellington] has been under pressure, which is always a good sign as well. From a batting point of view, he's got quite a unique style, but he knows his own game well and he's certainly been consistent, in terms of putting performances together."
Hesson further added that even though Blundell carries a relatively reserved demeanour for a wicketkeeper, he is confident the 27-year old's prior acquaintance with the New Zealand players will help him communicate effectively from behind the stumps.
"He's confident, but he's quite quiet and just goes about his work. He certainly knows this week his job is to lead the fielding unit as well in terms of standards."
Southee, however, is not ruled out of the opening Test, and Larsen said that Ferguson, who picked up 12 wickets despite a thumb fracture earlier this month, was drafted into the squad only as a back-up.
"With Tim awaiting the birth of his child, his availability is still uncertain at this point, so Lockie helps keep our bases covered," Larsen said. "Lockie's been in good form domestically and showed good signs for New Zealand A as well. His extra pace brings a slightly different dimension to the attack."