India vs New Zealand: With contrasting skills on display, Trent Boult, Tim Southee add another feather in storied complementary partnership

  • Michael Wagener
  • February 24th, 2020
  • 8:28:15 IST

In his captain's speech at the end of the match, Kane Williamson mentioned how good it was to have Trent Boult and Tim Southee bowling together. It's a combination that has been together for a very long time. Before they had both played internationals, they had played domestic cricket together. Before they played domestic cricket together they had played under-19 internationals together, and before that, they had played under-19 domestic matches together.

For more than a decade, Boult and Southee have been combining to dismiss batsmen. They are really a perfect combination too, asking similar but different questions. Boult is a left armer, so his natural line has the ball going across a right handed batsman, but then he is able to swing the ball back in. Southee is a right armer, and tends to bowl wide of the crease. His natural line sees the ball coming in to the batsmen, with his standard variation taking the ball away. Boult is relatively short, and releases the ball over his front foot, so it gets to the batsmen quicker than they expect, while Soutee is relatively tall, bowls with a slower arm action, and has a high release point, so the ball tends to get to the batsman slightly later than they expect.

Trent Boult and Tim Southee combined to take 14 wickets as New Zealand won the 1st Test by 10 wickets against India. AP

Trent Boult and Tim Southee combined to take 14 wickets as New Zealand won the 1st Test by 10 wickets against India. AP

The contrasts continue, into their personal lives too. Boult grew up in a city and attended the local state high school. Southee grew up in rural Northland and went to probably the most exclusive private school. In their spare time Boult is found surfing the waves of the Bay of Plenty, while Southee is more often found on the golf course. Those contrasts, however create a single bowling partnership that has been at the heart of New Zealand's recent success.

India started the third innings in a position where all three results were still possible. While it would have required some excellent batting, the third innings at the Basin Reserve is traditionally an easy time to bat. The average team score in the third innings in the 20 years before this match at the Basin Reserve was 390. That's higher than any ground that has hosted at least five Tests in that time. Instead, after 45 overs, India's hopes were almost completely extinguished, courtesy of three wickets from Boult and one from Southee.

This morning, there was still a chance that Ajinka Rahane, Hanuma Vihari, Rishabh Pant and Ravichandran Ashwin could have held the bowlers out. The pitch had dried out, and the ball was old. But Boult and Southee were not to be denied. Boult added one wicket and Southee picked up four more to combine (along with one from Colin de Grandhomme) to clean up the last 6 Indian wickets for only 47 runs.

Once the openers knocked off the runs, it became the 28th victory for New Zealand in the 54 Tests that Boult and Southee have played together. To put that in context, New Zealand have only won five of the other 31 Tests that they've played since the start of 2010. New Zealand's winning rate is 220 percent better when Boult and Southee are together than when they are not.

Part of that is due to the fact that they both bowl better when they are together. When playing together they have taken 447 wickets at a combined average of 27.12. Each of them has similar numbers when playing together as well, Southee has 220 wickets at 27.51, while Boult has 227 wickets at 26.74.

However, apart they are not nearly as effective. In matches without Southee, Boult averages 35.24, while Southee averages 35.76 without Boult at the other end. They each see their average improve by roughly 25 percent when bowling together.

That difference between averages when bowling together and apart is actually unrivalled in international cricket history, among bowlers with a reasonable number of matches both together and apart. Merv Hughes and Terry Alderman improved by about 21 percent (they averaged 30.23 apart and 24.13 together) Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis improved each other by about 19 percent (27.19 apart, 22.12 together). Both of them had big differences, but neither saw the same sort of improvement that Boult and Southee did.

Boult and Southee are New Zealand's most prolific wicket taking partnership also. The previous gold standard for opening partnerships was Sir Richard Hadlee and Ewen Chatfield. They had a different type of partnership, with Hadlee attacking from one end, while Chatfield generally tried to bowl tight and create pressure from the other. As a result their stats were more lop-sided with Hadlee taking almost double the number of wickets than Chatfield did. Together they combined for 310 wickets at an average of 25.39. Their wickets came at a lower average, but they took longer to get them. Taking a wicket every 10.3 overs, as opposed to every 9.1 overs for Boult and Southee.

The other prolific opening partnership that New Zealand had was Chris Cairns and Simon Doull. They took 129 wickets together at an average of 29.67

The only real weakness in the combination has been when there is not much swing on offer. With both Southee and Boult being swing bowlers, they have struggled if the atmospheric conditions are not helpful. That has become less of an issue with the development of Neil Wagner, who has been able to take wickets in the most benign conditions, and has been able to bowl long spells with the old ball, allowing Boult and Southee to be fresh for the second new ball.

Christchurch is probably the ground in New Zealand where there is the least swing on offer, however, even there they have prospered, with 69 wickets at an average of 21.04 collectively. Diffusing them will need to be the number one target for India's top order in the next match, otherwise a repeat of the third innings debacle is a distinct possibility.

Updated Date: February 24, 2020 08:28:15 IST

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