Cricket: Southee's career owes much to Jamaica

By David Leggat

Early next week as New Zealand prepare for the opening home test of the summer, Tim Southee could be excused a brief thought back to the last time they played the West Indies.

Up to that point in August last year, Southee's test career, having burst into life as a 19-year-old with five wickets in his first test innings against England in Napier in 2008, had been up and down.

After the first test against South Africa at Dunedin early last year, he was dropped for the rest of that series. It wasn't a sensation he particularly enjoyed, but he acknowledged he wasn't bowling well.

He returned for the second test in Jamaica in August, took three wickets and hasn't looked back.

Call it the pre- and post-Jamaica parts of his test career - one which promised a lot but only occasionally flickered into life; the other a seriously good sustained period of swing and seam bowling which has made him the leader of an impressive New Zealand fast-medium unit.

Southee, in reflecting on that South African test at University Oval - match analysis 36-5-140-0 - knew things weren't right.

"I didn't pick up a wicket, didn't look like getting a wicket," he said.

"I had a couple of technical problems with my action, there wasn't a hell of a lot behind [the delivery], and I wasn't really swinging it.

"It was more technical than anything else. I was quite low in the arm, almost round arm rather than over the top."

He had stayed in touch with former South African speed great - and briefly New Zealand bowling coach - Allan Donald. Text messages were exchanged, advice given and it proved beneficial.

Otago coach Vaughan Johnson is another wise, experienced head Southee contacted.

"He's someone I got in touch with when I was struggling a bit. He's known my action since I was about 16 or 17. He's very good technically.

"They're still two people I talk to, along with Bondy [current bowling coach Shane Bond], who has been a good resource to tap into."

Tinkering and tidying up done, Southee hasn't looked back.

There was seven for 64 against India in Bangalore four weeks after his recall in the Caribbean.

He had match figures of eight for 120 in the 167-run win over Sri Lanka, which signalled the end of Ross Taylor's term as captain in late November.

Southee took five wickets as New Zealand came within one dismissal of toppling England at Eden Park in March for what would have been a remarkable test and series victory. Then came the career high point, 10 for 108 at Lord's in May.

"It all clicked, the action, I found my rhythm, playing consistently and with confidence," he said last night. "I've got the ball swinging and just bowled well for a long period of time."

He's also overcome surgery on his left ankle, doing good recovery work in Bangladesh last month where playing outside on grass pitches against good batsmen helped him get up to speed. Six for 79 off 25 overs for Northern Districts in a heavy beating of Central Districts this week assisted the preparation, too.

Southee, fellow ND swing bowler Trent Boult, Otago's bustling Neil Wagner and Doug Bracewell form a good quality quartet. They push each other and ensure there's no room for complacency.

Southee has been there the longest, but Wagner took his chance last season and has been on an upward trajectory since. His last six tests have produced 26 wickets at 29 apiece.

Boult seemed to have come of age with his six for 68 in England's first innings at Eden Park, while Bracewell - at 23 the youngest of the quartet - after a stunning 10-wicket, match-winning return in Hobart late in 2011, has talent but needs consistency.

As Southee put it, if they can raise plenty of questions for the selectors, coach Mike Hesson and national selection manager Bruce Edgar, that is a positive.

"It's a good group and we're all relatively young," he said. "There is a competitiveness among ourselves and that's healthy."

- NZ Herald

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