New Zealand’s fast bowling reserves are undoubtedly some of the deepest in the world currently. The quartet of Kyle Jamieson, Trent Boult, Tim Southee, and Neil Wagner have wreaked havoc of late, but the team management have a dilemma to solve as they gear up for the World Test Championship final against Indian from June 18.
Boult, who missed the first Test against England after he flew home following the suspension of the Indian Premier League, should by rights be a certain starter in the XI once available for selection. The pacer has picked up 34 wickets in nine games in the World Test Championship, and has been seen for a while as New Zealand’s attack leader. Though he is yet to take a five-wicket haul in the event and is well below the highest wicket-taker Pat Cummins in the list, Boult’s experience with the Dukes makes him a threat in English conditions.
The trouble is, much the same could be said about the rest of New Zealand’s attack. So who, if anyone, is expected to make a way in the XI to accommodate the left-armer?
Southee, Wagner, Jamieson, and Boult – all have strong cases to be included
Until Jamieson’s emergence, New Zealand’s pecking order was clear. Boult was the attack leader, Southee his new-ball partner, and Wagner was their ideal foil. However, the emergence of another bowler, again in a slightly different mould, has muddied the waters, while Southee’s resurgence has threatened Boult’s supremacy.
Southee tops the wicket-taking charts for New Zealand since the start of the World Test Championship, with 51 scalps. The bowler was particularly impressive against Virat Kohli in the second Test match at the Hagley Oval in Christchurch last year, where his swinging deliveries ruffled the Indian skipper, who took full advantage of Kohli’s iffy footwork. Overall, Southee has picked up 39 wickets against India. His strike rate of 43.20 against them is his best against any opponent.
Jamieson burst onto the scene against India last year with his balanced run-up, his high action, and threatening line and length. He has picked up 39 wicket in seven Tests so far, a sensational start to his career, with his ability to get the ball to move off the seam or jump off the wicket troubling the Indians greatly. He is also a handy batsman lower down the order. Indians will well remember the four lofted maximums in his Test debut innings to equal the record for most sixes in a maiden Test innings.
Wagner is in some ways the least eye-catching of the four, and the least likely to run through a side, but he rounds out the attack perfectly. The left-armer bowls only around 130kmph but makes up for the lack of pace with his bounce ball-after-ball. Each bumper is perfectly directed, meaning batsmen can either sway out the way time and again, or take him on and risk perishing to the fielders in the deep. While the new-ball bowlers Southee and Boult look to get movement in the air, his barrage of bouncers from different angles ensures he lends variety into the bowling attack.
Since the start of 2018, Boult has 81 wickets at 26.70, numbers that would assure him a place in any other side in the world. But among that quartet since then, his average is the worst. If New Zealand possibly can, they’ll want to pick all four.
Could New Zealand leave out an all-rounder?
Though the pitch at Southampton – the venue for the finals – has traditionally had some assistance for spinners, Santner’s overall poor record in helpful conditions makes him the easy choice to omit. The slow left-armer has a Test bowling average of 43.97 and he has picked up just one wicket in the last five away Tests. He also doesn’t give New Zealand the control you might expect from a spinner.
Colin de Grandhomme exudes control, while also providing batting depth to the New Zealand team. With one hundred and eight fifties in 24 Tests, he adds great balance to the side. He also has an economy rate of 2.42 in the format and can dry up the runs from his end. Leaving him out would be tough on him, and also leave the Blackcaps with a longer tail than usually, with Santner arguably slightly high at No.7. However, if New Zealand do want to pick all four of their frontline quicks while also being wary of leaving out a spinner, then de Grandhomme will have to be the one to go.
Will New Zealand pick a spinner?
Since the arrival of Jamieson, the Kiwis have tried out various combinations which makes it difficult to pinpoint the direction New Zealand will go in with when Boult returns. While at home they have favoured four quicks alongside de Grandhomme, England isn’t as unfriendly to spin as New Zealand is.
While Santner’s struggles, partly down to an injured finger, could see him left out, another spinner to get game time recently is Ajaz Patel. He has played eight Tests, taking two five-fors in five games played in Sri Lanka and the UAE. At home, he has gone wicketless from three games, although he has done a good holding role, conceding 2.16 rpo from 49 overs. Given his holding role would allow him to provide a similar job to de Grandhomme, he could potentially play over him, with Santner dropping out for Boult. However, that would leave Jamieson batting at No.7, probably too high even given his impressive start so far.
Considering India’s weakness against swinging deliveries and New Zealand’s advantage courtesy of their experience with the Dukes ball, it would not be a surprise if all four pacers take the field with de Grandhomme as the all-rounder, irrespective of the conditions on offer. Expecting the side to play to their strengths then, and unleash pace on India — their biggest weak point — could be the way forward for Kane Williamson and Co.
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