Southee last remnant of previous pace era

Tim Southee (right) and Kane Williamson. Photo: Getty Images
Tim Southee (right) and Kane Williamson. Photo: Getty Images
The last of New Zealand’s eight test victories over Australia was also the start of a decade of seam stability.
Now, as the Black Caps begin their bid for No 9 at the Basin Reserve today, their pace stocks are in greater flux than any period since Hobart 2011.

Doug Bracewell memorably bowled his side to a seven-run win in that test, but of more relevance to the team’s future was the debut of a 22-year-old Trent Boult.

Tim Southee, who turned 23 on day three, was featuring in his 15th test, while Neil Wagner was seven months away from earning a maiden cap

Together, that trio led New Zealand to the top of cricket, cementing themselves in the seam spots on the road to the World Test Championship triumph in 2021.

Today in Wellington, Southee will be the last man standing, the skipper’s 98 tests potentially complemented by two quicks with one each.

Southee confirmed that Will O’Rourke would be retained following a nine-wicket debut haul against South Africa, while Will Young would open the batting in place of the injured Devon Conway.

With Matt Henry having recovered from the hip complaint that made him miss Australia’s T20 series sweep, the final spot in the XI will be contested by Mitchell Santner and Scott Kuggeleijn.

Given Rachin Ravindra and Glenn Phillips offer spin options, and given the pitch at the Basin appears typically verdant, Kuggeleijn seems set to round out a four-pronged pace attack.

Graphic: ODT
Graphic: ODT

The inclusion of the Northern Districts veteran carries its own issues. In 2017, Kuggeleijn was tried twice and found not guilty of rape; his later selection in the national side was met by fan dissent and described by cricketing bible Wisden as ‘‘a stain on New Zealand’s good-guy image’’.

From an on-field perspective, calling up a 32-year-old with a solitary cap is hardly how the Black Caps will have hoped to be beginning their first home test assignment against Australia since 2016.

But after Boult left for the T20 franchise game and Wagner on Wednesday announced his retirement, Southee remained the last bridge to a golden era.

One of two survivors from Hobart - alongside Kane Williamson - the 35-year-old has fond memories of the time that followed, though perhaps not a subsequent run of seven losses in eight tests against the transtasman neighbours.

‘‘It was a wee while ago but it was a special win against Australia, who we haven’t had a lot of wins against,’’ Southee said. ‘‘For the side around that time, it was the start of when we became a bit more consistent as a test team.’’

A reliable seam triumvirate was integral to that consistency, but Southee backed both test novices to be ready for an encounter with the world No 1. O’Rourke is only a fortnight removed from snaring nine for 93 against South Africa - the best match figures by a New Zealander on debut - while Kuggeleijn leads the Plunket Shield with 22 wickets.

‘‘For so long the bowling lineup was pretty settled,’’ Southee said.

‘‘But what we saw [from O’Rourke] in Hamilton was something special from a young guy.

‘‘He’s shown glimpses and there’s something about him - we’ve watched him closely over the last few years and he’s got a lot of attributes that we liked. We saw that in his test debut and it’s exciting to see those guys make that transition from domestic cricket.’’

An assignment against Steve Smith - No 2 in the test batting rankings, sandwiched by Williamson and Daryl Mitchell - represents a challenging start. But despite those eight wins standing in contrast to 18 draws and 34 defeats, Southee was counting on his team’s recent home record to trump any historical gloom.

While New Zealand are without a home victory over Australia since 1993, they are unbeaten in their last 13 series in favoured conditions, adding optimism to all the anticipation.

‘‘We’ve always known Australia were coming and that’s been at the back of everyone’s mind,’’ Southee said. ‘‘You look at our record in New Zealand and we’ve had a number of series wins. We’ve been a very competitive side in our conditions.

‘‘It’s been a long time since we played Australia in these conditions and we’re certainly looking forward to what should be a great few weeks.’’