When Tim Southee took 7/33 against England in the last World Cup, it seemed like he had finally arrived, after years of promise. He debuted while he was still in his teens, and had become a solid performer, but there had always been the feeling that there was more available. On that Friday afternoon in Wellington, Southee delivered the performance that fans had been hoping for. Four English batsmen bowled by balls that swung to just hit the off stump, two nicked off and one bamboozled into dishing up a leading edge. It was as good as pace bowling gets.
It was, however, a zenith from which he would quickly descend. A combination of injuries, modifications to his action, experimenting with new techniques and plain bad luck saw him return with some appalling figures. Between May 2015 and August 2018 he averaged 43.22 at an economy rate of 5.7 runs per over. With numbers like that it is easy to see why he was dropped.
But numbers don’t always tell the whole story. Throughout that time, he’s often been troubling batsmen only for them to play and miss instead of nicking off, and when he has found the edge, the ball has often travelled to the boundary instead of a fielder. The pressure that he’s been able to help build can be shown in the fact that despite him hardly taking any wickets, he and Boult have been the most difficult opening partnership to face, with the opposition top 3 batsmen from top teams averaging a collective 35.48 against New Zealand during that period.
Southee bowls slower than most opening bowlers, but has all the tricks of a medium pacer. He bowls one of the best off-cutters in the game, that at times turns further than some spin bowlers’ stock deliveries. His “three-quarter ball” that looks like it’s going to swing but then comes back off the seam is a magic ball that has beaten many good batsmen. His bouncer has just the right combination of precision and variation to cause problems. But he’s probably still 5 km/h too slow to really be as effective as he could be. He is currently the eleventh highest world cup wicket taker, and second amongst active players (after Lasith Malinga). He could climb up the list considerably if he rediscovers an extra yard of pace.