New Zealand

NZ vs Pak 1st Test

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Earlier this week, the ICC announced its Test team of the decade, a side that raised eyebrows – and tempers – in Pakistan for the absence of anyone from the country in the XI. As for New Zealand, there was just one – Kane Williamson – in the list. And that, in a decade that has had up to five other players who can stake a claim to be in their country’s all-time Test XI: Ross Taylor, BJ Watling, Trent Boult, Tim Southee and Neil Wagner.

Those in charge of cricket in New Zealand might not say so publicly, but the absence of more than Williamson in that XI even as they are there and thereabouts at the top of the Test rankings is a glowing compliment to them. It is a vindication of the system where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. With three fast bowlers, two batsmen and a wicketkeeper-batsman in the side strong shouts for all-time greatness, New Zealand have managed to foster that rarest of things: a team choc-a-bloc with elite sportsmen that is very well balanced, yet curiously bereft of egos, internal rifts, or selfishness.

It hasn’t, however, dimmed their relentless pursuit of excellence. Williamson began this decade a prospect and ends it a giant, and yet you sense that he doesn’t stay up at night moaning about a rare personal failure if he’s led his side to a Test win. Southee doesn’t sulk as Boult hoovers up most of the praise, while Wagner manages that seemingly impossible balance of giving this nice, mellow unit a nasty edge while also making himself the most lovable of them all. These may be top, top players, but for them, this remains very much a team game.

The fourth day of the Boxing Day Test against Pakistan in Mount Maunganui ended with New Zealand seven wickets away from a 1-0 lead. Southee capped the day with his 300th Test wicket when he had Haris Sohail driving on the up to short cover. Southee, the frontman of a legendary New Zealand bowling attack where he’s almost talked about as something of a sidekick, particularly to his new-ball bowling partner Boult. And yet, despite a Test career that began nearly four years before Boult’s did – the age difference between the two is barely six months – Southee looks the stronger partner as they approach this lap of their careers.

Boult is out of form by no metric besides the absurdly high standards he sets, but in that relative dry patch, Southee has seamlessly stepped in to do the heavy lifting. This summer, it has been Southee helping the side seize control early on, taking 11 wickets across the three opposition first innings in the three Tests; Boult has managed six overall. And while Boult went wicketless in the T20I series against Pakistan, Southee chipped in with six strikes in two matches to become the fifth-most prolific T20I wicket-taker.

Still, while Wagner is the enforcer, Boult the key swing bowler up front, and Kyle Jamieson the fresh force, Southee is merely the team player that complements them nicely despite a career that perhaps shines brighter than any of the others’. Indeed, he is perhaps more talked about for his entertaining lower-order six-hitting than the specifics of what make him so successful with the ball, and that success is continuing unabated.

Read more at www.espncricinfo.com

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