Andrew Alderson

Andrew Alderson is a sport writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Cricket: Boult will not be left behind

With a new level of maturity, pacer Trent Boult can make a real name for himself as a New Zealand cricketer.

Trent Boult. Photo / Getty Images
Trent Boult. Photo / Getty Images

Trent Boult now tops the list in New Zealand Cricket's perennial search for a potent left-arm pace bowler.

The area has been an perpetual selection problem in the country's 82 years of test cricket. Only 15 left-arm pace bowlers have played for New Zealand. Richard Collinge (1965-78), with 116 wickets at 29.25 in 35 tests, stands out; he is the only one to average under 30.

No Kiwi left-armer has exhibited the skill of Pakistan's Wasim Akram, Australia's Alan Davidson or England's Bill Voce. Other countries have had useful spearheads in recent years like Sri Lanka's Chaminda Vaas, England's Ryan Sidebottom, Australia's Mitchell Johnson and India's Zaheer Khan.

Of the eight left-arm pace bowlers to play for New Zealand in the last 20 years, Shayne O'Connor figures as the best with 53 wickets at 32.52 from 19 tests. Boult - now with competition from Neil Wagner - shapes as New Zealand's best long-term hope in the discipline. He can count Sachin Tendulkar, Gautam Gambhir, Jacques Kallis, Michael Hussey and Chris Gayle among his 17 dismissals at 36.52 in six tests.

Limited overs duties are being added to his workload on this tour to Sri Lanka which starts with a Twenty20 match on Tuesday night.

Boult's test debut is one of the more memorable in New Zealand cricket history. He was brought in for the injured Daniel Vettori to form a pace quartet against Australia in Hobart. He finished with match figures of four wickets for 80 and a first test victory in Australia in 26 years. It made a contrast from his first appearance for New Zealand in Australia against a Prime Minister's XI prior to the 2009 Chappell-Hadlee series. Boult was pummelled for 56 runs from 6.5 overs and took a solitary wicket as a raw 19-year-old who had inspired headline writers with offerings like "Boult-er" when he was plucked from the Northern Districts nursery on the basis of speed.

"I was young and relatively naive. It was overwhelming in my first year of first-class cricket," Boult says. "I was really nervous when I got that shot at Manuka Oval [in Canberra]. It was a bit of a blur. I'm happy I saved my test debut for Hobart. That was surreal. Everything remains vivid. It was one of the best days of my life."

Boult has dealt with injury difficulties, mainly concerning his back, between January 2009 and his recall for the Australian test series a year ago. Northern Districts bowling coach Craig Ross - who, after six years' service, takes up a newly-created role as director of cricket at Central Districts next month - says Boult became a work-in-progress after that baptism.

"Trent has been self-sufficient in many ways. He's generally low maintenance. We guided him into first class cricket in 2008-09, then he broke down in the nets in Australia. He was a young kid trying to impress so he charged in for two hours straight. It took him two years to get his confidence back.

"The back injury changed his action. He developed a long, loping run-up and a more side-on delivery. He became nervous running in, jumped a bit at the crease and fell away from the ball.

"We worked at getting him back 'behind' the ball. We sat him down to watch footage of himself at under-19 level where he bowled the sorts of deliveries which recently had him getting through Tendulkar's defences. He is more front-on and gets through the crease quicker now with a higher tempo in his run-up. He gets behind the ball; as a result his swing has improved. "[Previous bowling coach] Damien Wright did a lot of good work with Trent and, as he develops he'll be able to get one to go back into the right-hander more consistently. He showed high energy and pace in India but faces a genuine challenge in the shorter formats, such as hitting the blockhole with yorkers when required."

Pace is not something Boult is specifically focused on. He's coy on the culture of speed being the be-all and end-all of fast bowling.

"I'm not running in trying to bowl 145km/h all the time, I'm not sure you can always trust those radars," he chuckles. Instead, Boult has modelled his game on Akram, the left-arm master he describes - with fast-bowling relish - as "destructive", swinging the ball both ways with the added weapon of reverse swing.

There is added spark to this tour for Boult with news Sri Lankan left-arm veteran Vaas will spend time helping the New Zealand camp in local conditions.

"I would love to discuss swing and control with a world class exponent like him," Boult says from his Colombo hotel where he's practising John Mayer songs on his guitar. "In these conditions you've got to have variations bowling to the likes of [Kumar] Sangakkara and [Mahela] Jayawardene."

- Herald on Sunday

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