Cricket: Tom Blundell hails Blair Tickner, as unlikely batting hero guides Blackcaps wicketkeeper to century against England

Blair Tickner wasn't picked to make his Blackcaps test debut for his batting, but that's exactly what came to the fore on day two of the first test against England - guiding wicketkeeper Tom Blundell to his century.

Coming to the wicket at 247/9, and with the Blackcaps still behind by 74 runs, Tickner survived 24 balls - but more importantly allowed Blundell to score the 18 runs required to move from 82 and on to his fourth test hundred.

Blundell's fourth test ton, and second against England, also saw him become the first gloveman to register a century in a pink ball test match. 

Tom Blundell celebrates his century against England.
Tom Blundell celebrates his century against England. Photo credit: Photosport

And coupled with further partnerships of 75 with Devon Conway (77), and 53 with debutant Scott Kuggeleijn (20), Blundell pushed the Blackcaps' first innings score to 306 all out in response to England's 325/9 declared.

While Tickner's three not out will hardly register as one of the great scores in New Zealand's cricketing history, his holding up an end allowed Blundell to play freely, as the duo added a last wicket stand of 59 runs - the second-highest partnership of the Blackcaps' innings.

In the process, 32-year-old Blundell moved to his highest test score, going past his 121 opening the batting against Australia at the MCG in 2019, before he was the last man out for 138, and reduced England's advantage to just 19 runs.

And as Tickner himself struck with the ball to remove first innings dangerman Ben Duckett, and Scott Kuggeleijn had opening partner Zak Crawley, England finished day two at 79/2, 98 runs in front.

While not a game-winner in and of itself, the Blundell-Tickner partnership changed the game for the Blackcaps and has allowed New Zealand to fight another day - with three still to be played at Bay Oval.

Speaking after his career-best effort with the bat, Blundell was quick to credit the work of his less-accomplished batting partner, keeping the Blackcaps in the contest along the way.  

"I thought he did bloody well, to be honest," said Blundell. "There was chat that he's done it before in domestic cricket. I think he's faced 100 balls in one game.

"For him to do that was bloody amazing, to help me out. Kudos goes to him."

Blundell's efforts with the bat against England at Mt Maunganui only add to his run of recent success against the Brendon McCullum-Ben Stokes-led side.

Last year, in a 3-0 New Zealand loss, Blundell scored 383 runs at an average of just under 77, finishing as the series' fourth-highest run scorer.

And while many of the plaudits went the way of Daryl Mitchell (538 runs at 107.60) in that series, Blundell's contributions were just as significant to the New Zealand middle order.

After initially struggling to emerge from the shadow of BJ Watling as New Zealand's wicketkeeper, Blundell has more than made the spot his own.

Now, the Blackcaps genuinely have a No.6 batter also able to lay claim as one of the world's premier glovemen.

"It's all about trusting my game," said Blundell. "The older you get, the more trust comes your way.

"I took a lot of confidence from last year in England, doing well against them, and I've faced them before, just being able to trust that really."