Will he play? Won’t he play? The jury is finally out as New Zealand left-arm quick Trent Boult is set to be included in the XI for the second and final Test against England starting at Edgbaston from the 10th of June. Updated quarantine protocols in England made it possible for Boult to train earlier than what was expected paving his way into reckoning for the Birmingham encounter. Boult will, in all likelihood, make way for Neil Wagner and should add more potency into the New Zealand attack.
What is so special about Boult that makes him a match-winner especially in conditions in England? Do his historic numbers in the country back his reputation? We explore.
The Ability To Swing The Ball Both Ways
On a damp and helpful Basin Reserve wicket in Wellington in the summer of 2013, a left-arm pacer took 9 wickets on Day 3 to hand New Zealand a thumping win by an innings and 73 runs against the West Indies. He returned with 10 wickets in the match - his only 10-for in his Test career as the visitors were routed for 193 and 175 and the match was wrapped within three days.
What stood out apart from immaculate line and length and accuracy was his brilliant ability to swing the ball - and that too both ways. As many as 7 of his 10 wickets in the encounter came off the ‘swinging ball’ mostly coming back in but also surprising the batsman on the odd occasion with the one that moved away.
This was Trent Alexander Boult at his lethal best!
Fast forward to 2021 and this ability to swing the ball both ways makes Boult a match-winner in conditions that suit him, at home and in England. And thus, he would add that extra dimension to the New Zealand attack come the second Test against England at Edgbaston and the subsequent WTC Final against India in Southampton.
Boult bowls at a lively pace, maintains tremendous control and pitches the ball slightly full-ish making it talk in both directions. His stalk delivery is the one that comes back in late, trapping the batsman leg before wicket or bowled and he occasionally lets it go with the arm or swing the other way inducing the outside edge making him a nightmare for the batsmen.
Record At Home and England & Leading NZ To WTC Final
With his discipline and ability to make the ball move in both directions, it does not come as a surprise that Boult’s best returns (with the exception of Sri Lanka) have been in New Zealand and England. He has been outstanding at home with 164 wickets in 35 matches at 25.35 and a strike rate of 51.
Boult’s career can be divided into two halves. Till the end of 2016, he bagged 72 wickets in 17 matches in New Zealand at an average of 26.11 and strike rate of 54.8. Post 2017, he has become more lethal and has returned with 92 wickets at home in 18 matches at a marginally better average of 24.76 but at a significantly better strike rate of 47.9. Boult - the wicket-taker has been at his destructive best in the last four and a half years.
Boult was always a wicket-taker in ODI cricket - where his career strike rate of 30.2 - is the fourth-best in the format’s history after Starc, Ajantha Mendis and Brett Lee (min. 150 wickets). Since 2017, he has harnessed this white-ball quality of his with the red cherry too.
It does not come as a surprise then that Boult’s best period as a strike bowler has coincided with one of the most dominant periods for New Zealand in their Test history. Since December, 2017, they have lost just one (and won 9) of the Test series they have played. And 8 of these wins have come at home with Boult playing a pivotal role with the ball.
It is mainly because of this impeccable record at home that New Zealand have managed a place in the final of the inaugural World Test Championship.
Boult has bagged 21 wickets in 4 Tests in England across two tours at an average of 23.14 and strike rate of 52. He returned with 5-57 in the first innings at Leeds in 2013 but his more impressive performance came at Lord’s in 2015 where he returned with 9 in the match - his ability to bring the ball back in causing the maximum trouble to the England batsmen.
His ability to generate swing has meant that Boult has been very successful against openers and at striking with the new ball during his career.
Wickets With The New Ball & Success Against Openers
39 of Boult’s total dismissals have been of the on-strike opener in a match against whom he has an average of 21.17 which suggests that there is a sense of fear in the mind of the opener who takes strike against Boult with the new ball.
His average against the left-handers is marginally better as compared with the right-handers but what is interesting is that Boult gets a higher percentage of his RHB (right-handed batsmen) dismissed by going through their defenses - 38 of his 159 RHB wickets are ‘bowled’ which makes sense due to his ability to swing the ball in into the right-hander.
Another staggering statistic which shows his potency with the new ball is the number of batsmen Boult has sent packing early in their innings. As many as 140 (almost 50%) of his total dismissals have been of batsmen who have not reached double digits - yes, a chunk of these also include the tail but a large percentage comprises the top order.
180 of his 281 wickets (almost two-third) have been when the batsmen has not reached a score of 20 which suggests that Boult has this special ability of getting the batsmen out when they have hardly done any damage to his team.
An impressive performance against England at Edgbaston will be the ideal practice for Boult while also making a big statement ahead of the WTC Final against India starting four days after. He will be more devastating with the brand new ‘Dukes Ball’ which swings more and could cause the opposition batsmen nightmares in seamer-friendly English conditions.