Cricket: Southee fortunes swing upwards

By Andrew Alderson

Years from now, when Tim Southee pens his autobiography or joins the celebrity speaker circuit, the last couple of months might go down as "the turning point", or maybe, for purposes of a pithy title, Full Swing.

The 22-year-old has faced a gamut of life experience in three years with the team. Yet he remains largely unflappable. For starters, Southee has seen the power false allegations can have to sully a reputation.

A woman sitting on his knee giving him a goodnight kiss on the team's flight to the World Cup morphed into "the worst possible sort of lewd behaviour", at least according to one passenger who spoke to the media and created a furore.

"[The plane incident] is part and parcel of professional sport," Southee says. "In those situations, I've got to remember to make the right decisions in the heat of the moment. Some people don't.

"You're in the spotlight all the time so it's something you deal with, managing your profile and image. There are no excuses; you have to be aware. It's not going to go away. There will always be people looking to shoot you down as quickly as they can; people trying to twist something out of nothing."

That meant a swift and disappointing end for the group who had gathered to follow his every thought on the social media site Twitter.

"I went on it for a couple of days but it is not for me. I leave that sort of stuff to Scotty [Styris] and guys like that."

Much like All Blacks who return to play the occasional match for their clubs, Southee finds cricketing fame carries a price when he turns out for his local club Maungakaramea in the Northland competition.

"I enjoy playing club cricket when I head back for a spell at our sheep and beef farm at home," he says. "I get treated as just another team member; they give you a bit of stick.

"My last few games haven't been too good, either," Southee laughs. "I think I got a first-ball duck last time. Batting's not my strength but people get you out and they're genuinely excited. You sort of wonder why."

He admits it's difficult adjusting to the fishbowl lifestyle.

"Obviously I came into international cricket at a young age. I've had the luxury of experiencing a number of highs and lows in a short period. I could've gone away and given up but I worked hard and it's coming together."

That is an understatement. Southee's international form with the ball has seldom been better. After making his test debut in March 2008 and touring England later that year, he spent time outside the Black Caps squad, particularly in 2009. He has since returned with venom and rebuilt his confidence. Importantly, he feels like he belongs at international level.

Former New Zealand fast bowler Shane Bond, who is working for an Indian television channel at the World Cup, believes Southee has traversed the gap between proving himself and knowing he is a permanent fixture.

"It's great he's continuing his outstanding form and good rhythm from the home summer," Bond says. "He looks comfortable with his place in the team, knowing his position is not up for grabs. It means he can play more naturally without quite the same pressure.

"He's not far from being the senior bowler in the side. He gets reverse swing and, at the death, has a pretty good yorker. He just has to avoid being predictable at the end and stay confident.

"He's still only 22 so his best years are yet to come. New Zealand Cricket could help by re-signing someone like Allan Donald [as bowling coach] for a period to give him a chance to make a difference."

Southee's statistics verify his surge towards the senior ranks. At the World Cup, albeit against some weaker teams such as Kenya and Zimbabwe, he has 10 wickets at 11.20. He takes a wicket just about every four overs.

That form has continued from the start of the year against Pakistan when he secured his first ODI five-wicket bag in Wellington. Since the start of that series, he has taken 17 wickets at 19.35 compared to a career average over 47 matches of 31.48.

The region he needs to improve is on the subcontinent. From August until just before Christmas, he played six ODIs and took six wickets at 40.66. Donald is working on that.

"He stresses that we can't afford to let batsmen settle into the game these days," Southee explains. "That's where reverse swing is important but it's hard to get the ball into a condition to do it. You don't want the ball getting too soft; it's so vital the ball does something with wickets being so good [for batting]. If it's not swinging, then the batsmen know it's happy days.

"It also means bowling over the wicket and around the wicket, changing the pace and doing those things in the heat of the moment. It's training so when you get hit out of the park you don't think, 'crikey, what do I do now?' Hopefully, [Donald] can stay for a longer period because he's ensuring we set high personal standards at training."

With no Indian Premier League affiliation, Southee hopes to get an English county contract following the World Cup.

"I'd enjoy the chance to play more regular four-day cricket," he says. "The English have a real passion and tradition for the game.

"I think I'd quite enjoy regularly having a beer after a day's play, chatting about cricket and life; much like I do with the Black Caps."

- Herald on Sunday

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