New Zealand cricket has never had a pace bowling attack like it.
Tim Southee, Trent Boult and Neil Wagner are a world-class unit with the quality and variety to tear the best batting lineups apart.
They have also become the three amigos off the field - friends for life as Southee puts it - although the chances of that occurring looked extremely slim at one point because of an apparent personality clash.
As cricket authorities work out how to restart the international game following the pandemic shutdown, the Herald visited Northlander Southee at his hometown of Cambridge – where fiancée Brya Fahy hails from - to look back at his magnificent career and discover what the future might hold.
On the three-pronged pace attack
Southee and Boult have been close allies for a long time, since playing representative cricket for Northern Districts as teenagers. Southee was groomsman at Boult's wedding.
"He's one of my best mates and that does help. We know how we operate on the field, what makes each other tick," says Southee.
"Neil as well. We're all very good friends. We spend a lot of time together away from cricket…whether it's just catching up, playing golf, fishing…we've all got kids now.
"It started through cricket and developed into a pretty strong friendship that will go well beyond our days as cricketers. That includes Neil as well now, especially since he saw the light and moved to the North Island. The three of us are thick as thieves – it's brilliant playing alongside those guys."
But it didn't start out that way with Wagner, who first played for New Zealand in 2012 after being recruited by Otago from South Africa.
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"I'm sure he won't mind me saying this, but he was – not abusive – but aggressive on the field. He came here and was sledging our domestic cricketers," Southee says.
"For us New Zealanders it was a bit different. It's foreign to us. We're not used to it. He was in your face.
"Then he came into the New Zealand side with myself, Trent, Doug Bracewell. And we were all good mates. Suddenly we've got this guy from South Africa – he didn't quite gel straight away. It took time – he broke us down. We got to know him.
"I'd imagine it was difficult for him – it was a bold thing to do at the age of 23, moving to another country. Looking back, we made it harder for him than we needed to.
"He's such a good bastard. He fit in and is a great team man. He'd do anything for you, off the field as well.
"He's almost too nice. But on the field he has that aggressive approach, which he needs to get the best out of himself.
"Neil's slipped in there and done an exceptional job. We all complement each other. We've all added to each other's success. When you are out there in the heat of the moment, it's nice to have one of your best mates to call on."
On the joy and frustrations of swing bowling
Believe it or not, one of the world's finest swing bowlers is still trying to work out how to make the ball swing.
Southee is the youngest of four kids, from a sports-loving family with a beef/sheep farm at Maungakaramea near Whangarei.
As a kid he would lie on his bed for hours flicking a cricket ball in the air to the point his mum Joanne became exasperated at all the red marks on the ceiling.
Maybe that is where he developed a perfect wrist action for an outswinger which became the cornerstone of his career.
But Southee can't make the ball go the other way, the main reason he worked so hard on creating new angles at the crease along with using the scrambled seam delivery.
"I'm very lucky. I don't know why – maybe I've got a good wrist – but I've always been able to bowl the outswinger," he says.
"I'd still love to bowl an inswinger like James Anderson but for now it is left to the training field.
"It's amazing to watch Anderson who can swing it both ways at will, especially with the Dukes ball.
"I needed something different – good batters will work you out and leave you, leave you, leave you if you only have the outswinger."
The scrambled seam delivery is a lottery ball which might hit the seam and deviate, hit the shiny side and skid, or do nothing. He has also become a master at subtle changes of angle.
But he still dreams of that inswinger.
"I just can't bowl it – I've watched a number of things on James Anderson and tried that but it doesn't work for me," he says.
"I've tried playing around with wrist position, pressure on different points of the ball. I'm still playing around with it.
"I'm mindful of losing my trump card. It got to a point where I was worried that it would stuff up my wrist and I would lose the outswinger.
"In the end it's about finding a way that works for you and working extremely hard on it."
On his childhood sporting heroes
"(All Blacks) Jeff Wilson and Christian Cullen…as a kid you look at the guys who score the tries rather than the ones with their head down doing all the work. My cricket heroes were (South African all-rounder) Jacques Kallis, and (Australian opening bowler) Glenn McGrath.
"I believe Kallis is cricket's best player…I didn't see Sir Viv Richards etc, so I can't say Kallis is the best ever. But to me he is the best. He's got the same sort of batting record as Ricky Ponting and probably a better bowling record than most bowlers. It's phenomenal the way he could bowl 20-odd overs then strap the pads on and bat.
"He is quite a reserved sort of guy. You never saw him lose it. He just went about his business – no one noticed him. And he did it for such a long period of time."
On great characters he's met
"If I can answer it this way," starts Southee, explaining that the rise of Twenty20 competitions around the world means that many test rivals are no longer strangers. Which brings us to the former Aussie international Shane Watson.
They didn't exactly hit it off at first when Southee chipped Watson, seven years his senior, and got a predictable response.
"I made a couple of passing smart-arsed comments he didn't like," recalls Southee of the 2010 series, which featured a physical clash between Mitchell Johnson and Scott Styris in Napier.
"We had a few heated discussions on the field – he probably thought I was some young, jumped-up little prick from New Zealand. I thought he was an arrogant so-and-so from Australia.
"We ended up in the same team in India, when he was captaining Rajasthan. I thought 'geez he probably hates me'.
"We tried to avoid each other at all costs for the first few days but you can't avoid each other for two months. It's quite funny – we've laughed about it. He's a bloody lovely guy.
"The other one is Mitchell Johnson. Some guys get white-line fever, to bring out the best in themselves. But getting to know him away from cricket, he's a good guy.
"Again, at Mumbai, I formed a good relationship with (England's) Jos Buttler, through playing with him for two years hanging out every day. He's probably the guy I get on with best.
"People say it has become too friendly at times but you are still going out to win a game for your country."
On his batting
This comes in for constant attention. He's not exactly known for resolute defence, in any situation. The unforgettable 77 he scored in his first test, involving a boundary hitting spree against England, has almost become a millstone around the neck.
"My batting frustrates a lot of people, it frustrates me," he says.
"I never considered myself a genuine all-rounder. Slogging 70 on debut, I don't know if it was a good or bad thing. If I'd got a duck instead, people would think I've over-achieved.
"But I've definitely under-delivered with the bat and I hope to get better."
On the ICC has temporarily banning using saliva on the ball
Southee half-joked that cricket was always doing things to "favour the batters".
He said it would make swing bowling more difficult, and a saliva substitute was needed. He wondered about the move, in a wider sporting context.
"Okay, saliva is a carrier of the virus," he said.
"But if you watch a (rugby) scrum with 16 guys sweating, spitting, bleeding over each other, and we can't shine a ball."
On claims of a north-south split in the Black Caps dressing room
"We've built a healthy culture," Southee said in response, while not outright denying there might have been an issue.
"It hasn't been easy but Brendon McCullum was a big leader in that and Kane Williamson has followed that on.
"We see more of each other than our own families. It can be tough, stuck in a foreign part of the world, restricted in what you can do. Things can get uncomfortable with certain people.
"When I think back to various other environments I've been in, it gets back to whispers, things don't get solved, and that's when cracks start appearing.
"But now if someone has got something they don't agree with, they can have that discussion. Not every issue, but most of them.
"The side is as strong as it has ever been...we have robust discussions and it always comes back to what is best for the side."
On Gary Stead's decision to drop him for January's test in Sydney
Southee declined to say what reason the coach gave him for the decision. The pair would have to agree to disagree, he said.
"Any time you are left out, it bloody hurts," he said.
"It was about not showing my disappointment to the group. The last thing they needed was a senior guy kicking cans.
"We had a number of discussions about it and you've got to respect the coach's decision. I had to stomach it and move on.
"But it hit especially hard because I felt I was taking a few wickets leading into that game. I didn't see it coming."
On fielding in the slips
Southee said former captain Brendon McCullum surprised him on the field during a test against England at Eden Park in 2013.
Southee had never fielded in the slips cordon, even at junior level, or even practiced there.
Troubled by a hamstring injury, McCullum quit the cordon and told Southee to jump in.
He soon had his first victim, a nice catch off Ian Bell's bat, from Wagner's bowling.
"I was chucked in there. Brendon said 'you've got reasonable hands'…you should be right," recalls Southee.
"I was a bit nervous but he gave me the confidence. The next day I started practicing with the slips. The rest is history.
"But if I'd shelled that catch things could be completely different – I might still be at fine leg."
On captaining New Zealand
Again, this was down to McCullum's influence.
"It is something I've enjoyed, and something I never thought I'd do."
On coping in lockdown
The Black Caps were supposed to be heading off to play Ireland, Scotland and the Netherlands about this time. With lockdown approaching, Southee filled his garage with gym equipment.
"(The uncertainty) has been a bit hard because you are used to planning two or three years ahead," he said.
"But as sportspeople, you have to adapt. It was a chance to give the body a rest, do more conditioning. You've got to be mentally and physically right."
On the sporting advantages from growing up in a small area
Southee went to a country school of only 30-odd students, and remembers being allowed to watch test cricket in the school library all day.
As a "chubby, heavy" kid, he was pushed up the rugby grades. And he was the only third former in the Whangarei Boys High first XI which played in the local men's cricket competition.
At 15, he was in the Northland cricket team playing with and against big names like James and Hamish Marshall, and Daryl Tuffey.
"I was sharing dressing rooms with men, learning very quickly. It was awesome thinking back – you learn to grow up reasonably quickly.
"The irony is I then went to Kings College and ended up playing with school kids."
On one thing he'd like to change in cricket
"I worry about the next generation of kids not having the same love for test cricket, with T20 coming in and the short form so exciting.
"Test cricket is the pinnacle. I just love test cricket. It's the greatest satisfaction, sitting there after winning, having worked your arse off with your mates for five days."
On future goals
"It's been brilliant playing the three formats, and I'd like to play all three for as long as I can. Guys are so much fitter now, and it's something I pride myself on," he said.
"I absolutely love the game. Look at Ross Taylor – arguably in the best form of his life. James Anderson is performing at his best at 37, showing age is no barrier.
"Every chance to represent your country is a special one. I'm fulfilling a childhood dream, and have been very lucky to do so for the past 12 years."