New Zealand are on the verge of winning a fourth Test series in 2018 with Sri Lanka up against in the second Test in Christchurch. In this particular Test, the man who took them to a position of complete dominance was Trent Boult.
Sri Lanka resumed their first innings on 88/4 in reply to New Zealand’s 178 all out. Boult had started the second day with figures of 0/20. He had bowled well, keeping things tight and was beating the bat fairly regularly, but he hadn’t been taking wickets. That changed when Boult put together a spell that saw him take six wickets for four runs in 15 balls. At one point he claimed five wickets without conceding a single run. Sri Lanka were dismissed for 104, conceding a first innings lead of 74.
Perhaps one of the more interesting things about this New Zealand team is that none of the fine players that have put together this superb run of form in Test cricket seem to get mentioned when the best players in the world are discussed. Sure, Kane Williamson gets talked about, but only after Virat Kohli, Steve Smith and Joe Root. But the fantastic Trent Boult, and his new ball partner Tim Southee are forgotten far too often.
It has been seven years since Boult made his Test debut, and the evidence is that he is only just now reaching his peak. In 2018 he has claimed 30 wickets in just 12 innings, claiming those victims at an average of just 23.73. Combined with an economy rate of 2.81 and a wicket every 50.5 balls this year, this has been a vintage Boult, and his efforts against Sri Lanka in Christchurch are perhaps the best example.
There is pureness about Boult and the way he plays the game. His action is classical, the way he takes his wickets is traditional swing and seam. At home, in favourable conditions, he has been a true world-beater across his career, claiming 122 wickets at an average of 24.58. The standard critique of a swing bowler who does not possess out-and-out pace is that they can only be match winners when the conditions suit them. This is not true of most of the world-class bowlers against whom this argument is used, and it is not true of Boult.
Boult has played 15 Tests in Asia and has 42 wickets at an average of 33. In the recently concluded series against Pakistan in the UAE we saw Boult at his best in those conditions. In the first Test, New Zealand were up against it. They had batted poorly having won the toss, posting a meagre 153. That this Kiwi side came back to win that game, and the series 2-1, says a lot about their skill and temperament. But it was Boult that kept them in that match.
He claimed 4/54 with all of the batsmen he sent back to the pavilion in the top six. Those wickets kept the Pakistan lead manageable and allowed his side to come back into the match and claim victory.
While those efforts in Asia have been impressive, it is when Boult gets it right when the conditions all line up, that he really gets the pulse racing. That completely irresistible spell against Sri Lanka early on day two if the Christchurch Test was joyous. It didn’t last long. Those final five wickets fell in the space of 15 balls, but the result was beautifully inevitable.
The only sad part was that there weren’t any more Sri Lanka wickets left for him to hoover up to make the spell even more numerically impressive.
Boult is not yet 30 and is at the top of his game. He will add considerably to his 230 wickets before his career is done, and with Southee, he has the chance to create one of the bowling partnerships that will be spoken of in revered tones for years to come, if they haven’t already done so. If he can stay fit he will fly past 300 Test wickets, whether he will make it to 400 and beyond will be hampered by the fact that New Zealand don't play as many Tests as India, Australia and England.
If you were picking the best Test XI based on current form and the ability to perform all around the world Boult should be pushing for selection. The fact that he wouldn’t make many people’s team is to their discredit rather than his. In Boult, world cricket has a gem that should be appreciated before he departs.