Cricket: Boult more than just a top bowler

By David Leggat

Trent Boult is part of a well-balanced New Zealand side. Photo / Getty Images
Trent Boult is part of a well-balanced New Zealand side. Photo / Getty Images

Amid the welter of statistical bumf which accompanies every test, here's a couple of Trent Boult numbers which, given the nature of Friday's events, understandably slipped under the radar.

He's scored more runs at No 11 this calendar year than anyone else, by a mile - 137 at a snappy 27.4 average; and is already up to No 14 on the all-time list with 184 at 23, equal best with Richard Collinge among New Zealanders. Since you asked, Sri Lanka's Muttiah Muralitharan leads that chart with 623 runs.

You suspect those numbers would tickle Boult's fancy, in the way lock forwards take particular pride in their dropkicking ability at training. Boult might not be at No 11 for much longer at this rate either.

And he was chuffed to find his spectacular catch to remove Denesh Ramdin on Friday sitting at No 2 on ESPN's plays of the day.

But call those sidebars to the primary string to his bow - and right now his bowling is fit to have him sit among the best fast-medium bowlers in the game.

Boult's 10 for 80 at the Basin Reserve in New Zealand's innings and 73-run win lifted him to 41 wickets this year at 25.53, with the third test starting in Hamilton on Thursday to come. Only English trio Stuart Broad, James Anderson and Graeme Swann have taken more.

The 24-year-old made his debut in New Zealand's thrilling seven-run win at Hobart in late 2011. However, the man of the hour then was Doug Bracewell, with his six for 40 in the second Australian innings, as part of nine for 60 in the match.

Whither now, Doug? In the squad of 13 but unable to force his way into the XI, and developing a reputation for inconsistency which he needs to remove, and sharpish, if he's not to get a reputation as something of a wasted talent.

Boult isn't likely to drift into the same league any time soon. His pace is sharp, he has late swing to match the best and is fit as a flea.

"You just look at the fitness tests he's been through, compare him with other sports and he's right up there," New Zealand coach Mike Hesson said yesterday. "He has the ability to sustain pace over a period of time. He's a good athlete, still young and still trying to improve."

Hesson believes there are a handful of key ingredients in Boult's game: "The way he presents the seam is as good as there is going around," he said. "He's continually working on his strength and conditioning and that's certainly making a big impact on his game.

"'He's got the ability to take top order wickets because he swings the ball late; he's got a good bumper so he keeps guys off the front foot and he's extremely fit so he keeps coming hard; he can bowl three or four hard spells in a day."

Already only three New Zealand bowlers, of those with 50 or more test wickets, have a superior average to Boult's 67 at 26.92 - Shane Bond (87 wickets at 22.09), Richard Hadlee (431 at 22.29) and Bruce Taylor (111 at 26.6). Only Collinge (116 at 29.25) has more wickets among left-arm quicks.

Boult is ticking off the numbers at a rapid clip. His six for 68 against England at Eden Park last March was a top-class return; in Colombo last November he had the ball singing in steamy conditions as he took seven for 75 in the 167-run win. There was a bag of five for 57 against England at Leeds in May.

"He's been bowling well for over a year. This hasn't just happened," Hesson said. "But he's bowled well on occasions and been frustrated."

His new-ball partner, and fellow Northern Districts mate, Tim Southee, is closing in on 100 test wickets. He needs six in Hamilton to get there before Christmas. Southee has taken 23 wickets in his last four tests and is averaging 32.81 apiece. They form a hugely encouraging combination, potentially for years to come, fitness and form permitting.

"They're good mates, fun to be around and certainly get the best out of each other," Hesson said.

Extrapolate Hesson's views on Boult and Southee to the other seam bowlers, left armers Neil Wagner and Corey Anderson and legspinner Ish Sodhi.

"We've got a good group, guys that do different roles. Some into the wind, some swing it naturally, we've got a good mix and we're starting to develop into a nicely balanced side."

- Herald on Sunday

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