Over three months and five Tests against England, topped off with a ten-wicket performance at Lord’s, Tim Southee, New Zealand’s swing-bowling spearhead, has been a standout performer. Young, probing and skilful, he was also the third highest wicket-taker at the 2011 World Cup and could well prove to be New Zealand’s key man as they seek to add to the country’s solitary ICC tournament victory – the 2000 Champions (ICC KnockOut) Trophy in Kenya, when they defeated India in the final.
Despite being the only non-Asian team to reach those 2011 semifinals, Southee still believes the ‘dark horse’ tag is appropriate. “I guess we go into games against the likes of England, South Africa, Australia and India as underdogs,” he said. “It’s something we enjoy but it gives us that extra little bit of motivation. Our record shows we can tip anyone up on our day.”
With a battery of fellow swing bowlers in Kyle Mills, Doug Bracewell and Mitch McCleneghan, New Zealand could be well equipped for England, but Southee is wary of claiming that the new rules – a new ball from each end – and English conditions push them up the list of favourites: “You don’t know until you turn up on the day. It might swing around early and I guess there’s that onus on you to pick up early wickets, but not getting carried away trying to get four and five wickets. Whether it’s swinging or not, you’ve still got a job to minimise runs so that when you do pick up wickets, the (other) side isn’t too far ahead of the game.”
The Northern Districts prodigy is adamant that “our guys can adapt pretty well to whatever conditions are thrown at us” and cites as evidence that 2011 World Cup and the previous ICC tournament, the Champions Trophy in South Africa when they lost to Australia in the final. Furthermore, the streamlined format, with every game “like a knockout,” could work in their favour. “It goes back to that ‘dark horse’ tag again. We’re good at getting ourselves up for one-off games, so if we can gain some momentum – and we’re lucky enough to have the one-day series in the lead-up to the tournament – I think we can go a long way.”
Southee was clear about his squad’s strengths: “New Zealand, especially in limited- overs form, have prided ourselves on our fielding, and that’s somewhere that everyone can contribute something. If you can save 15 runs in the field, that’s a massive effort,” he commented, citing the World Cup quarterfinal victory over South Africa as proof that “fielding can actually win you the game.”
However, New Zealand also have the oldest squad in the tournament (the third-most battle-hardened in terms of ODI caps) and Southee believes the veterans, rather than compromise that fielding, can only help matters. “You can’t really coach experience and with the likes of Kyle Mills, Daniel Vettori and James Franklin coming in, who’ve played competitions like this before and over 100 games, that can only help the younger guys get better and better.”
New Zealand’s limited-overs competitiveness has also traditionally been founded on the amount of allround options they’ve been able to stack in the side, with the likes of Chris Cairns, Nathan Astle, Chris Harris, Craig MacMillan, Jacob Oram, Scott Styris and others giving batting and/or bowling depth. The loss of Jesse Ryder’s enigmatic talents is therefore sure to be keenly felt. “Hopefully he can get through the situation he’s in at the moment and be back playing for New Zealand in the near future. But he’s one of the most talented guys I’ve played cricket with,” Southee continued. “He has the ability to destroy a side on his day and when he does, it’s pretty special to be a part of. And also there’s his ability to bowl you a few overs through the middle as well, so he’s a handy allrounder and for a big fella he’s an exceptional fielder. He is missed and we hope he gets back sooner rather than later.”
Even so, Southee is confident they have “other guys who can fill his position – the likes of Kane Williamson, James Franklin and Grant Elliott are guys who can bowl a few overs through the middle.”
With some white-ball experience playing Twenty20 cricket for Essex in 2011, when he had “reasonable success,” Southee could be ready to make a major impact. He’ll certainly hope to do so in the day-nighter against Australia at Edgbaston when they renew their “across the ditch rivalry”, and it will no doubt help having a couple of former Warwickshire legends as current and former national bowling coaches.
“Allan Donald was only with us for a short period of time but I think he had a big impact on all the bowlers. He offered that confidence in you, that belief, and he was also great to bounce ideas off, being one of the world’s best. It’s a shame he’s no longer with us and that he couldn’t stay for longer but I still get in touch with him every now and then. We’re lucky enough to have Shane Bond here who’s got that similar past behind him and knows what’s needed to reach the heights.”
Southee believes that, although underdogs, New Zealand “can take a little bit of heart from the All Blacks,” whose top-dog status in world rugby shows what can be achieved by a nation with a small population. With New Zealand’s hardcore support, the Beige Brigade, sure to be bolstered by a sizeable pocket of UK-based expats, the team realize it would “huge” to add to that 2000 Champions Trophy success.
However, Southee would just be happy to get a certain monkey off his back: “The only one that was part of it that I played with was Scott Styris, and he reminded us most days that he was the only one to have won an international tournament. 2000 was a reasonably long time ago and we’ve reached a lot of semifinals since, so I think we’re due for a big trophy in the cabinet.”