Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Well bowled, Timmy!

The Bangalore visitors' honours board (Courtesy of blackcaps.co.nz)
7/64 on a green seamer at the start of a New Zealand summer would be a fine haul – to achieve it against India on the sub-continent is almost without peer. The extraordinary effort of Tim Southee made for riveting test cricket, albeit a hard-fought loss, and helped dull the pain of an inept New Zealand struggle in the first test. Will it allow him to cast aside the potential tag that has threatened to hang him for the past four years?

A baby-faced Tim Southee announced his arrival on the international scene with 5/55 against England on test debut in Napier – four years and 18 tests later, a more mature 23 year old has finally shown a return on the potential that had started to weigh him down.

Having got his break for Northern Districts as an 18 year old, Southee made the step up to the international arena in 12 short months, but his appearances at test level have been sporadic and often underwhelming. Like Vettori before him, Southee has grown up, both personally and in a cricket sense, almost wholly at an international level - developing in the spotlight is never easy, doing it as an impressionable young man can be a recipe fraught with danger.

Still learning his craft at 23, Southee has struggled to fulfil the early promise – 45 wickets in 18 tests prior to Bangalore doesn’t do justice to his talent, but the game is played as much with the mind as the body, and at times his mental approach appears to have gone absent without leave. That he averages a shade over 30 at domestic level and is yet to achieve 10 wickets in a match illustrates there is room to grow, but he is headed down the right path.

In recent series against South Africa and the West Indies, Southee has missed at least one test – he was only selected for the Caribbean after Mark Gillespie got injured prior to leaving New Zealand. Again he wasn’t picked for the first test in Hyderabad, but he won’t go away – the seed that was sown by Allan Donald has been cultivated by Damien Wright. The next bowling coach needs to groom the tall timber into the finished article.

Prior to the start of the Bangalore test, many (myself included) questioned Southee’s inclusion at the expense of New Zealand’s senior statesman, Chris Martin, as they had before the Kingston test. Martin has lacked penetration of late but so has young tyro Doug Bracewell, though his place seems secure on the back of THAT test and long term promise. It has been a pleasure to be proved wrong by those tasked with moving the New Zealand game forward – long may it continue.

The Bangalore wicket may not have been the traditional Indian dust bowl – a graveyard for all but the spinners, but it didn’t offer the assistance Southee’s return would suggest. Zaheer and Yadav got little either in the air or off the deck in New Zealand’s first innings yet Southee bent his back and harnessed every bit of life available. He showed his peers the way forward and if a little more luck had gone Boult’s way the first innings gap could have been closer to three figures – whether the final result would have changed is now irrelevant.

Southee’s seven wicket stretch was the standout performance in a vastly improved New Zealand effort – it’s a pity the batsmen didn’t show his haul the respect it warranted. The Kiwi bowlers removed the last five Indian wickets for just 52 when they threatened to build a substantial lead. Southee swung the new ball in a destructive spell on the third morning which saw him snare four Indian scalps inside three overs, including the dangerous duo of Dhoni and Kohli. All batsmen, regardless of their pedigree, struggle when the ball moves late in the air - Southee had it on a string and capitalised on the overcast conditions.

The young Northern Districts pace man showed control not seen from him on a regular basis at test level - until recently there was a fear he would become a limited overs specialist. He has the weapon of swing - an art few have fully harnessed in recent years and one of the deadliest weapons in a pace bowler’s arsenal. To see it utilised in such a successful manner was poetry in motion. Having shown an oft misplaced aggression in recent series', Southee rechanneled it into his bowling - it was the ball and not his mouth that did the talking, and the Indians didn't like his tone.
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Where does Southee’s effort rank against those that have worn the hallowed black cap before him? His Bangalore bounty sits him sixth on the all-time list of New Zealand’s top returns in a test innings – only Sir Richard Hadlee, Chris Cairns and the mercurial Chris Pringle have bettered his efforts.

In 83 years of New Zealand test cricket a bowler has taken seven (or more) wickets in an innings on just 15 occasions – only six have resulted in victory – four of those in the five returns that top Southee on the list. Only Chris Pringle’s herculean effort against Pakistan at Faisalabad went unrewarded – Pringle helped roll Pakistan for 102 (their lowest total against NZ at the time), on the back of a career-best 7/52, but Pakistan still prevailed by 65 runs – Southee is in fine company.

Pringle’s Pakistani heroics 22 years ago were the last time a New Zealander took seven wickets away from home - Southee is the first to achieve the feat in India. Former selector Dion Nash held the previous best with 6-27 at Mohali in 1999.

Only three New Zealanders have taken seven wickets against the might of India – as expected, the list is headed by Sir Richard Hadlee. His 7/23 at the Basin Reserve in 1976 helped his side to an innings victory – Hadlee bowled just 8.3 eight ball overs in a second innings that lasted only 211 balls and 81 runs.

Southee’s return in Bangalore was the best test haul by a Kiwi since Daniel Vettori took 7/130 against Sri Lanka at the Basin Reserve in 2006 - let’s hope the wait is shorter in the future.

Will Southee’s heroics signal the start of the next step in a career that has never quite reached the heights of an uplifting debut in Napier? It’s unlikely the form and figures of one innings will see an overnight transformation, but it’s a sizeable step in the right direction.

The test will be whether Southee can quash the self-doubt and call on his deeds in Bangalore when things don’t go his way. With Boult and Bracewell, New Zealand have the makings of a strong pace trio – it’s time for the kid from the Far North to show his mettle and lead a young Kiwi attack into battle.

On reflection, does Southee’s return in Bangalore signal the end for Chris Martin? He will likely remain in the wider squad but I’d imagine his game time will be greatly diminished. Boult and Bracewell look secure, Wagner remains in the mix and Mark Gillespie is still to come back. Age creeps up on us all; for some it simply attacks a little quicker, and without fair warning.

But for now, let’s simply enjoy one of New Zealand’s finest efforts with the ball, salute Tim Southee, and hope whoever replaces Damien Wright can continue the growth in our bowling stocks.


Tell me what you think – I’d love your thoughts. Post a comment below or tweet me @aotearoaxi.

4 comments:

  1. Excellent post. That Southee was able to lure players of the quality of Gambhir and Raina into leaving balls that deceived them is a measure of how good he has become. The addition of the scrambled seam ball that moves back in to the batsman has made Southee a much more complete bowler. He is still potentially his own worst enemy, but that risk reduces as he matures.

    I have also been impressed with Trent Boult in this series. He seems to be bowling faster, and with more aggression. However I would love to see NZC invest in a few sessions for Boult with Glenn McGrath to teach him to snarl and sledge a bit; he's too much of a nice guy for an international fast bowler!

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    1. Thaks for the comment - that Bracewell was the least impressive says more about the other two than his efforts. The growth of the pace bowlers under the tutelage of Allan Donald and then Damien Wright has been immense - they are constantly showing up those wielding the willow. I simply hope we move forward with the next coach - I think Shane Bond would be a step backwards.

      I agree about Boult - he still needs to bulk up a little but his pace has increased. That he has done it on the sub continent makes it more impressive. For mine he has the potential to offer the most to the side - the learning curve in the next 12-18 months will be steep.

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    2. I agree that our bowling stocks are as good as they have been for some time. Chris Martin has been a fantastic servant of the team, but his days are probably numbered. Neil Wagner will improve and put pressure on the three who played in Bangalore, and Mark Gillespie might have another Hamilton or two in him if he stays injury free.

      And it was pleasing to see Jeetan Patel bowling much better in India; bowling an attacking rather than defensive line. Might this tour also spell the end of Dan Vettori's test career?

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    3. More cricketing sense spoken - what is the world coming to? It sounds like Martin will stay on, play a bit and mentor some of the young lads - a win for them at least.

      Jeetan bowled well against players who know how to play spin, and I think he'll improve with a long run. As for Vettori, I think his career as a test spinner was over a while ago but I'm not sure anyone has the wherewithal to tell him - most players can't be expected to figure that out on their own - human nature out prevents it (I wrote a little about it in my Windies tour review). I'd like to see him stay as a number 7 batsmen who holds up an end with the ball - he's the master a it, and then put Watling at 6 as the wk. it would grow our batting depth, allow a bowling transition and still provide Vettori's stability. Don't see it happening though.

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