2019 Cricket World Cup: How'd We Get Here?

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While the selection of Tom Blundell in Aotearoa's World Cup squad isn't the most important, nor the craziest Blackcaps selection in recent times, all the tell-tale signs of weirdness are there. The eerie feeling of what happened prior to the Champions Trophy campaign in terms of squad selection is present in this World Cup squad in terms of a lack of planning, preparation and clarity, primarily in Blundell's selection but low key across other areas as well.

What I present below isn't a discussion of Blundell's selection, it's an account of what has happened over the past six months or so. I'm merely here to lay down the situation and let you come to your own conclusions, conclusions that I feel will resemble the shenanigans of the Champions Trophy and none of this should be surprising considering the main culpret is still in power.

We start this journey with BJ Watling's selection in the Blackcaps ODI squad that played in United Arab Emirates vs Pakistan. Watling was conveniently selected in the ODI squad, after having been given the honour of being on the selection panel in the search for a new Blackcaps coach and if that doesn't raise a minor wtf, Watling's last ODI prior to this selection was in December 2016.

Watling's last notable ODI score was a 45 in South Africa back in 2013 and he then played 10 games, without scoring more than 20 in an innings across five years. Suddenly, Watling found himself in the ODI squad and although he played an ODI in UAE, he didn't bat. As weird as all this was, you could explain it by Watling already being in UAE with Aotearoa A and then needing to stick around for the Test series; Watling was already there, so why not get him involved?

At the time, this may have been viewed as a nod to Watling being a back up World Cup wicket-keeping option. If planning and preparation is your thing, this was a nice opportunity to come out with clarity around the wicket-keeping ODI gig with Tom Latham being numero tahi, then the experienced Watling offering cover.

Prior to that ODI series, Aotearoa A played a 50-over series vs Pakistan A, in which Watling was 3rd in runs with 34.33avg/70.06sr. Tim Seifert and Tom Blundell also played in this series, they both played one game each and didn't really do a whole lot. Blundell did however have the honour of being the kiwi batsman (10+ runs) who had a lower strike-rate than Watling's with 55.35sr.

Unless there were some antics in-game, the scorecards list Watling as being wicket-keeper in two games and Seifert in one. Blundell played his only game in this series as a batsman, not a wicket-keeper.

Seifert was then the wicket-keeper in all three 50-over games vs India A and Blundell was not named in the Aotearoa A 50-over squad. Hitting two 50+ scores in three games, Seifert laid the platform for his ODI debut over the summer and if the Blackcaps wanted a back up wicket-keeper in their World Cup squad, based on Aotearoa A squads/team selection and Blackcaps squads over the past six months, either Watling or Seifert appeared the likeliest option.

In the 50-over format, Blundell appeared to be further down the pecking order and barely in the mix. A Super Smash campaign in which Blundell averaged 20, didn't exactly command further attention, although a strike-rate of 141.59 deserves a wink. With so much Aotearoa A cricket, the Ford Trophy can't really be referenced to as the leading players had limited involvement.

Blundell's 50-over record does little to suggest that he's ever been in the World Cup mix. I'm happy to roll with differing opinions based on personal perspective as to who is the best back up wicket-keeper to Latham in ODI cricket, however the point here is that zero planning for this selection is evident.

Now known as the 'best gloveman in domestic cricket' Blundell hasn't been groomed for any Blackcaps ODI cricket, let alone any clarity around preparing for the biggest tournament in cricket. As weird as Watling's ODI selection was for the UAE, combined with Watling being the primary wicket-keeper for Aotearoa A in UAE, one would have believed that Watling was being lined up for that back up role.

Then everything changed and Seifert was put in that position for the series vs India A. Seifert took his chances, Watling was chucked to the compost like a banana skin and Seifert then slid into Blackcaps ODI stuff. Two players appeared to be in the mix for the World Cup, then came buzz around Henry Nicholls being capable of taking the gloves. Three lads then, none of whom are Tom Blundell.

Seifert was apparently ruled out via injury. Depending on how much you want Seifert in the World Cup squad, it's not crazy to carry Seifert as the back up wicket-keeper given that he was probably going to be all good come World Cup time and that he probably wasn't going to actually play. Based strictly on selections from the Blackcaps, one would have thought that the next option would either be Watling or rolling with Nicholls as back up.

Blundell literally came from nowhere in terms of 50-over cricket because nothing has been done to prepare Blundell for this selection. It's one thing for fans to view a player as coming from nowhere if those fans aren't genuinely tuned into all things kiwi cricket, it's another thing for a player to come from nowhere based on Blackcaps and Aotearoa A planning/preparation.

While everyone will have different views on the 15th man of this Blackcaps World Cup squad, whether that's about who the best back up wicket-keeper is or if that spot should have gone to an extra batsman or a Doug Bracewell/Todd Astle type. Such discussions will always exist in these types of squad, what we have in Blundell's selection though is a clear example of the volatility in Blackcaps selection.

Volatility in selection doesn't strike me as being a good thing. I reckon that is backed up by Blackcaps performances against strong opposition or in major tournaments and it was almost mandatory that the World Cup squad would feature such a selection. To the extent that this lack of planning/preparation led to a player who played one of six possible Aotearoa A games over the summer and is yet to make an ODI debut, that's a bit crazy.

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