Dylan Cleaver on sport
Sport analysis and comment from Dylan Cleaver

Midweek Fixture: Black Caps' alpha male rediscovers his mojo

Tim Southee leads his teammates off the field after finishing with 6/80. Photosport
Tim Southee leads his teammates off the field after finishing with 6/80. Photosport

Welcome back Timothy Southee.

Of all the crazy turns that test cricket took over five wet and windy days in Hamilton, it was the restoration of Southee as the Black Caps' alpha male that should give Kane Williamson and Mike Hesson most cause for quiet celebration.

The Northlander, who turns 28 next month, was okay when taking match figures of 5-73 in Christchurch, though memories of the wastefulness of his opening spell in helpful conditions linger. He was by many pundits' reckoning, lucky to be in the side for that first test, with Matt Henry providing a more compelling case for selection.

In Hamilton however, with his wee mate Trent Boult out, there was never a question Southee would play and he thrived in the left-armer's absence. There was no ambiguity about his role. With Henry, who moves it off the wicket rather than the air, Neil Wagner, a shoulder bowler, and Colin de Grandhomme, a classic fourth seamer, as the other quick bowling options, Southee had to be the man.

He was the only one capable of swinging the ball at good pace to nick the best Pakistan players out. And he did, getting Azhar Ali and Younis Khan, Pakistan's best, caught behind in the first innings.

Southee played a role in the craziness of the second innings, but it was his 6-80 in the first that restored a lot of the faith.

Reality might veer slightly away from perception here, but it just felt like Southee grew a bit taller in Boult's absence, both literally and figuratively. He action looked a little higher than it has been, the ball swung later, it carried through to BJ Watling with a little more sting.

If talkback and social media forums are any guide, the tide of public opinion was ebbing on the 54-test veteran. Much of that is based on his batting. It is time to face reality and accept that Southee is never going to be the batsmen many hoped he would be (hope sparked by a misleading 77 not out in his first test).

He is a beautifully clean ball striker but one that is increasingly reluctant to get in line with the quicks. Until he can retool his technique or lose the fear, he's going to be a provider of the odd big-hitting cameo and the source of many head-slapping groans.
It is his bowling he should be judged on.

Southee is a hugely popular and influential player within the national set-up. There are those who believe he's too influential, that some young players try harder to impress Southee than they do the coaches.

That's not necessarily Southee's fault, but if he has been handed the role of team alpha, he might as well play like it.

Hamilton was a great (re)start.

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Welcome back, too, Ross Taylor. Let's now hope it is the start of the fourth phase of Taylor's test career and not a continuation of the frustrating third.

From 2007 to 2011 Taylor was a dashing but sometimes headless batsman, capable of eye-catching brilliance. From 2012 to 2014 he was an altogether more prosaic run machine.

From 2015 to now he has been worrying, with the odd big score (290 against Australia, feasting on Zimbabwe) illuminating long periods of futility.

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We set incredibly high standards for the All Blacks so take these next few sentences with a grain of salt.

The test against France was an above-average spectacle, as were the shared tests against Ireland, but that was mainly because of what the opposition were doing.

Here's what troubles me far more than the fact New Zealand's pre-eminence was finally challenged on the northern tour: they were really quite boring.

Yes, they scored the odd long-range try and Beauden Barrett was often electrifying, but outside those moments of explosion that no side other than New Zealand (and very occasionally Australia) have the catch-and-pass skillset to execute, they played a dull, kick-oriented game.

If it was England putting in endless dinks and box kicks we'd have no hesitation lampooning them, so why the double-standards?

THE WEEK IN MEDIA ...

The always entertaining Greg Baum gives a little perspective as to why many Australians are viewing the upcoming Hadlee-Chappell matches with a degree of cynicism.

This is just a single link, which will lead you on to several more in the Guardian's astounding, sickening revelations of the child abuse scandal rocking English football.

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