Southee-Boult swing double act awaits India batsmen in WTC final

The right-left pace pair enjoys huge success when hunting in tandem, and will test Virat Kohli’s team in the World Test Championship (WTC) final in Southampton
New Zealand's Trent Boult bowls during the second Test against England at Edgbaston on June 12. (AP) PREMIUM
New Zealand's Trent Boult bowls during the second Test against England at Edgbaston on June 12. (AP)
Updated on Jun 16, 2021 04:54 PM IST
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BySanjjeev K Samyal, Mumbai

Tim Southee and Trent Boult are no Richard Hadlee, New Zealand’s Sultan of Swing. The pair’s combined five-wicket hauls in Tests are 20 while Hadlee ended with 36. The Kiwi legend of the 1970s and 1980s though would have revelled bowling in a partnership like the current swing bowling pair. Throughout his career, Hadlee was a one-man army.

New Zealand did find a tearaway in Shane Bond in the new millennium, but he too had to shoulder the pace burden alone during an injury-riddled short career.

For the Kiwis, there is no better example of hunting in pairs than watching Southee and Boult, whose partnership which will go down as the finest in their cricket history. They are lethal with the new ball and effective with the old. In New Zealand’s rise to No. 1 in the ICC rankings following the recent series win in England, their contribution shines through.

Also read | Kohli receives shot in the arm in Test rankings, Williamson loses top spot

Breaking down their partnership using Cricviz data shows that in the 59 Tests they have played together, they have a combined 490 wickets. They have shared the spoils equally—Southee’s 247 scalps to Boult’s 243. They average 27 with eight five-wicket hauls and one 10-wicket haul each in their partnership.

In the World Test Championship final against India, starting in Southampton on Friday, the pair will be re-united, after taking turns in the 1-0 win over England in a two-Test series.

Virat Kohli’s team will be wary as the swing bowlers have made a telling impact playing together against India as well—56 wickets in five Tests. Left-arm Boult complements Southee beautifully. Southee takes over the lead role while Boult slips into a support one. The right-arm pacer has 33 wickets at a strike rate of 33.6, averaging 17.5, while Boult has 23 wickets (SR 50.4, Avg 27.7).

They will have the psychological advantage over India after wreaking havoc in the two Tests in New Zealand early last year, when Southee took 14 wickets and Boult 11.

As their overall record versus India suggests, they are a different deal when paired together as otherwise Southee’s strike-rate slips to 43.2 (39 wickets in 8 Tests), and Boult’s to 54.5 (36 wickets, 9 Tests).

With 70-plus Tests each, they have mastery over their craft and enjoy setting up a batsman, luring him to doom with subtle changes in length, line and angle.

It is certain they will provide a real examination for the Indian openers. In a mouth-watering clash, Southee, a former Mumbai Indians player, and Boult, currently with MI, will target the IPL team captain and India opener Rohit Sharma, who had missed the New Zealand Test series. While he averages around 64 since he started opening, experts are waiting to see how he copes against the moving ball.

Former India batting star VVS Laxman, an expert commentator for the official broadcaster, has advised Sharma to be careful about his front foot movement, and not take it across against Boult.

“For any opener it is important to know where his off-stump is. Rohit, from the time he has opened, even in Indian conditions, the way he played against South Africa (in 2019), he knew where his off-stump was. He was very disciplined at the start of his innings, and if he can replicate that in England, I am sure he will perform well. (He will have to) Let go of the balls outside off-stump,” said Laxman.

“He has another challenge in the form of Boult, who gets the ball in. Against Boult he can’t take his left leg across. He has to play as much as possible with the full face of the bat, as much as possible play towards the bowler/umpire. These are the two things Rohit definitely requires to address at the start of the innings.”

A good start will be important because India wouldn’t want Southee to be fresh when their No. 4, Virat Kohli, walks into bat. The pace spearhead has had past success against India’s batting mainstay and captain, dismissing him 10 times across formats and thrice in five Tests.

In the WTC cycle since 2019, Southee has provided exceptional service to his team with 51 wickets in 10 Tests, to be among the world’s top five-wicket takers. Boult has 39 wickets in 11 Tests.

In a virtual media conference organised by official broadcaster Star Sports with their commentary panel, Bond, explained how Southee and Boult take a lot of confidence from each other with support from left-arm pacer Neil Wagner.

“I think what you’ve seen is you’ve got a New Zealand attack which has three bowlers with over 200 wickets. Boult is approaching 300, Southee has 300, and Wagner has unbelievable heart, and that is the heart and soul of the bowling attack. When you have three guys who have played that much cricket together, understand how each other work and really believe in each other, that continuity has a massive flow of effect for the rest of the team. They are all very, very fit or very, very hard players and we take a lot of confidence from each other,” said Bond.

Also read | New Zealand will bowl India out cheaply if they win the toss and field in WTC final: Shane Bond

The new-ball pair has warmed up well for the important game. Southee set the tone with an outstanding performance at Lord’s, taking 6/43 in the first innings of the first Test. He did something which is considered almost impossible, upstaging England’s master of swing, James Anderson. He hit the perfect length, 57% cent full, allowing the ball to swing more than anyone else in the game. Boult came into the second Test and had a six-wicket haul in a memorable win at Edgbaston.

With Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma and the exciting Mohammed Siraj, India too possess a lethal pace attack. For Bond though the NZ pace attack stands out for its variety.

“It’s an outstanding seam bowling group in which all do something different. That’s the point of difference from the New Zealand seamers. As for the Indian seamers, they are all right-arm.” Bond added: “Kyle Jamieson, who is 6 foot 8, can swing the ball and get bounce (with) Colin de Grandhomme sort of bowling 120 (kph) and wobbling the ball around.”

“Now that attack in New Zealand, with the wickets flat, caused India all sorts of trouble and bowled them out without really the use of a spinner. That’s why I think they’ll go with five seamers and allow them just to continually attack with that line-up.”

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Sunday, November 28, 2021