World Test Championship: Tom Blundell to make way for Devon Conway, hints Gary Stead

Tom Blundell’s scoring flurry in domestic cricket may not be enough to save his Blackcaps spot, as he seems most likely to make way for Devon Conway atop the NZ batting order.

The Wellington wicketkeeper-batsman finished the Plunket Shield four-day competition with centuries in successive matches, showing calls to swing the axe on him may be premature.

But coach Gary Stead has hinted the hot form of Firebirds teammate Conway, 29, may be too hard to ignore.

With opening partner Tom Latham, captain Kane Williamson, senior batsmen Ross Taylor and the in-form Henry Nicholls unlikely to lose their places after an unbeaten test summer for the Blackcaps, Blundell remains a potential casualty to accommodate the South African-born newcomer.

"It's one of the options that's being considered," Stead says of the Blundell-Conway swap.

"Tom Blundell's been, I guess, the incumbent there - with Tom Latham - for a while now and has done a great job for us in that role.

"I don't think that's his natural role, though, and I think Tom recognises that as well. We just have to work through that.

"Everyone's seen the success that [Conway's] had and we know he's a fine player - it's just working out what that looks like."

Tom Blundell.
Tom Blundell. Photo credit: Image - Photosport.

Batting at No.5 in the Firebirds order, Blundell struck an unbeaten 103 in a draw against Northern Districts last week, followed by 113 against Auckland over the weekend.

That directive to move to the middle order came directly from Stead, who holds the cards over Blundell's future in the test side.

"I had a conversation with him and with [Wellington coach] Glenn Pocknall, saying if BJ Watling wasn't fit, then we need to make sure you're keeping for the last few games of the season," Stead says.

"I wanted to see that and it's also great to see him make some runs down there as well."

The 30-year-old also struck a career-best one-day 151 in February, part of a 191-run opening partnership with Finn Allen - recently capped by New Zealand in T20 internationals.

Shoehorned into the role on the ill-fated tour of Australia, Blundell produced a second-innings century that proved New Zealand’s only solace at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in the Boxing Day test.

Up until that point, Blundell had never opened the innings in first-class cricket, nevermind a test match, but struck 121 of New Zealand's 240 all out. 

Blundell's knock showed incredible composure against the Australian attack of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon, excelling at arguably the toughest job in cricket - opening the batting against a red ball.

But despite his proficiency against the short ball - a bare minimum needed to open the batting - Blundell only averages 35.27 runs, with one century and two fifties in 12 innings. 

That return is down on his overall career average of 38.42, although he has played just three tests batting in the middle order.

On the other hand, saying Conway has enjoyed a good start to his international career would be an understatement.

Since becoming available for New Zealand in late 2020, Conway has averaged an impressive 75 from his three ODIs, with a best of 126 against Bangladesh. In T20 internationals, Conway has struck 473 runs from 11 innings, averaging 59.11, with a high score of 99 not out against Australia. 

In first-class stints with Wellington in New Zealand, and with South African provincial sides the Dolphins and the Lions, Conway has compiled more than 7000 first-class runs at an average of 47.21, including a triple century of 327 not out against Canterbury in October 2019.

Stead is unable to hide his excitement over the prospect of Conway playing test cricket.

"I want him part of that test squad definitely," Stead said after the recently concluded series against Bangladesh.

Devon Conway celebrates his century against Bangladesh.
Devon Conway celebrates his century against Bangladesh. Photo credit: Image - Photosport.

"We've always known that Devon has a special talent and for him to do what he's doing at the moment is pretty amazing really.

"As you've seen in all forms so far, he keeps churning out the runs, so I guess the longer the game goes, the more you can see him do that as well."

But, there is also a scenario which could see the Blackcaps accommodate both Blundell and Conway, provided New Zealand play a split of six batsmen, BJ Watling as wicketkeeper and four specialist bowlers.

That instance though, would mean sacrificing either the spin option of Ajaz Patel, Mitchell Santner or potential debutant Rachin Ravindra, or one of the seam quartet of Tim Southee, Trent Boult, Neil Wagner or Kyle Jamieson. 

The Blackcaps will open their tour with a warm-up game against Somerset, before two tests against England, with the World Test Championship final against India starting on June 18.