Cricket: Tom Blundell emerges from BJ Watling's shadow as Blackcaps' new go-to wicketkeeper

When the Blackcaps take the field at Kanpur for the start of their World Test Championship defence, they'll be playing their first test since the retirement of wicketkeeper BJ Watling.

Watling, 36, signed off from international cricket in perfect fashion earlier this year, taking the gloves, as the Blackcaps won the inaugural test title. 

But after 75 tests - and 67 of those as wicketkeeper - Watling's influence on the team will be hard to duplicate for the Blackcaps, who often turned to him in a crisis.

Fortunately, they haven't had to look far for his replacement, with Wellington gloveman Tom Blundell already a key part of the side to reach the test summit.

Playing as either a keeper or top-order batsman, Blundell, 31, has proved his worth to the Blackcaps time and time again.

Now, with the wicketkeeper spot his for the taking, Blundell simply wants to live up to the standards set by Watling.

"It was fantastic to be in his pocket for a number of years and watch what he does," he says. "I wouldn't have it any other way. 

"He was a great influence on my development as a keeper and now it's my turn, which I'm looking forward to, and hopefully I can do as great a job as he did.

"In the past, I've been in and out, been in BJ's pocket a little bit, but [I] know it's my chance to put my stamp on the role, which I'm looking forward to.

"It's big boots to fill, filling in for BJ, but I think I can do a really good job."

About to enter his first series as the Blackcaps' go-to man behind the stumps, Blundell couldn't ask for a better opportunity to show his wares as a gloveman.

Beginning their test title defence, New Zealand will take on one of cricket's greatest challenges - facing India in India.

Playing on pitches that take square turn from day one, wicketkeepers must be at their best on the subcontinent and when the players take the field for the opening test, Blundell knows what he's in for, relishing the challenge.

"Obviously, it's a lot of spin, which is exciting," he says. "As a keeper, you love these conditions.

"You're in the game a lot more and [it's] something that's exciting for me. Keeping back home, you don't get to keep up to the stumps too much, but it's an exciting time ahead for me."

India are unbeaten in a home series, since losing to England in 2012 - nearly a decade ago.

But with a series win over Pakistan in the UAE in 2018 and series draw in Sri Lanka as part of the last test championship cycle, the Blackcaps have proved they can adapt to alien conditions.

No New Zealand side have ever won a test series in India and Blundell is aware that history looms for a Blackcaps side that's had no problem rewriting their own up to now.

"There's no better place to come play cricket. It's a great place to come play [and] experience the culture.

"If we can win a series here, that'll be the pinnacle for us."

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