ANY GIVEN MONDAY
The worst thing Tim Southee ever did was crash nine sixes over the short square boundaries at McLean Park on debut.
It was a cruel trick, pretending to be an all-rounder, but as far as optical illusions went it wasn't even that clever. All the traits that would characterise his batting in the following 71 tests were on display if you really wanted to see them: clean hitting, yes, but also a compulsion to hit in the air and a deep-seated fear of the ball.
That's right, even in compiling a record-setting 77 not out, Southee was facing James Anderson and Stuart Broad from somewhere near the safety of the square-leg umpire. They just made the mistake of trying to hit him, not the stumps.
It would have been far more instructive if we'd just ignored that flippancy – the runs were scored when New Zealand were 347-9 chasing 553 for victory – and concentrated on what had happened earlier.
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On his first day in whites for his country, Southee took 5-55. He was a bit quicker than he is today and a lot more raw, but like his batting, all the elements were there: classic outswing delivered with an economical action from a 1.93m frame at a touch over medium pace.
At the end of that day, while Kevin Pietersen gave the press chapter and verse followed by several more chapters about his batting brilliance, Southee wore the sort of boy-from-the-farm "aw shucks" expression that gave the impression that his haul had been little more than a happy accident.
If you were being unkind, and there have been plenty of people over the years queuing up to be just that, you could even say there was an element of vacancy about his demeanour, but that part was very much illusory.
It took a long time for people to realise that Southee's economy of quote and toothy grin masked a keen cricket intellect.
Brendon McCullum knew this. When he and Ross Taylor were forced into a presidential-style run-off for the national captaincy in late 2011, his nomination of Southee as a potential vice-captain was used against him, with the selection panelists questioning the Northlander's maturity.
Here's what I wrote about it at the time.
"Southee would perhaps be the most inappropriate vice-captain [McCullum] could choose … [he] has a reputation for being one of the lads and, even allowing for the fact that people grow up, if there's one tag you'd never apply to him, it's leader of men. Perhaps he's different inside the group, but perception can be a hard thing to shake."
Apart from the bit about perception being hard to shake, that passage has really not aged well.
Southee is a hugely influential part of this team. He is an intelligent bowler, Kane Williamson's go-to sounding board on the field and, ahem … a leader of men.
All of this was on display during New Zealand's near-flawless 10-wicket win over India. His match analysis of 9-110 off 41.5 overs was excellent, although only an extension of what he has been doing for the past couple of years.
At the end of the 2016 winter programme, Southee looked like he was fading and that all the overs in his legs had caught up to him. His pace had dropped and his average was trending back towards the mid-30s per wicket – too high for a new ball bowler. Since the start of the 2016-17 summer, all he has done is take 102 wickets at 23.4, which is a world-class return.
(Those numbers also point to the folly of leaving Southee out at the SCG during that recent tour of which we must never speak of again.)
He certainly hasn't got any quicker. At a pace that can dip into the mid-120s, Southee needs all the guile he can muster to get good players out, but he does. Two deliveries in this test were close to perfection, pitching on middle and shaping away to clip the top of Prithvi Shaw and Ravichandran Ashwin's off pegs.
With 279 test scalps, Southee is in pole position to become just the third New Zealander to pick up 300 test wickets. The only one who can pip him is Trent Boult (261) and he will have to get a wriggle on to beat him to that post.
Boult and Southee's careers have been so inextricably linked, it might be tempting to view them as a joint venture, like Smith & Wesson, or Hudson & Halls, but that also serves to diminish what they have achieved as individuals.
Southee might be a sitting duck these days as a limited overs death bowler – something that is not his fault alone – but he is doing the business as a test bowler better than he ever has before.
Maybe getting to 300 wickets will convince even the hardest of hearts that he has earned a spot at the top table of New Zealand test cricketers?
Or perhaps they'll instead look past the headline and focus on the footnote: Southee was dismissed for six in his only innings, hitting the ball down the throat of the fielder on the boundary.
Plus ça change.
THE MONDAY LONG READ ...
This is kind of excellent and kind of sad. One man's mission to catch marathon cheaters. From Wired.