As Kane Williamson and Trent Boult assessed conditions ahead of the fourth ODI, on their quasi home pitch, they were without their third Northern Districts Knights amigo Tim Southee. If Boult is Aotearoa's premier swing bowler, Southee isn't too far behind and a Seddon Park pitch that typically offers the bowlers a wee bit more than others around Aotearoa, combined with a sprinkle of humidity, would have had Southee fizzing for a trundle.
Southee was however, absent. As he has been for three of the four games vs India thus far and his lone appearance came after the Blackcaps had been rolled for 157 in game one, with Southee bowling 6.5 overs @ 5.26rpo without a wicket. That's hardly a game to judge Southee on, and since then Doug Bracewell (games two/three) and Matt Henry have shared the new ball with Boult.
We can however judge Southee's dip in ODI form since the start of 2018 where his career average of 34.84 balloons out to 51.84. Without a whole lot of reason, Southee is averaging 49.58 through 13 games in the land of the long white cloud and he's only played another two games outside of Aotearoa, both in United Arab Emirates where he understandably averaged 79.
A few months out from a World Cup, Southee's current ODI form is garbage and on the surface it appears as though he has been shunned from the 1st 11 for that. Yet these are complex times for the Blackcaps as every Tom, Dick and Harry gets an opportunity to make their case for further selection ahead of the World Cup. Not only that, but there is also a new coach at the helm and this only amplifies the 'let's suss everything out' vibe around the Blackcaps at the moment.
Had this not been the case, we probably wouldn't see such variety in the bowling attacks...
Game one: Boult, Southee, Ferguson, Bracewell, Santner.
Game two: Boult, Bracewell, Ferguson, Sodhi, de Grandhomme, Munro.
Game three: Boult, Bracewell, Ferguson, Santner, Sodhi.
Game four: Henry, Boult, de Grandhomme, Astle, Neesham.
All up, that's 10 different bowlers used in this series excluding Munro. With regards to Southee, this means that we aren't looking at the best bowling attack being used regularly which doesn't include Southee. Instead, other than Boult, everything's changing from game to game with the positive and negative context around Southee making him a prime candidate to miss out.
The fact that Boult has played all four games so far adds funk to the matter. Perhaps Boult felt like he needed reps against these Indian batsmen and the signs from the Test series vs Sri Lanka, then the energy permeating from his loins during his 5-for in game for, makes me feel like Boult simply wants to rip in.
Sip a bit of the positive context around Southee and maybe he feels different. Maybe Southee would prefer to work through his dip in form with rest, mentally refreshing himself etc. Different strokes for different folks and for us cricketing plebs, there is no room to suggest what is best for Aotearoa's best cricketers.
The positive context around Southee is basically that he's a proven performer, who averages a highly respectable 28.16 in England (16 games) and averaged 20.80/4.83rpo in the Champions Trophy over in England in 2017. The World Cup will be played in England and right now, I can't imagine any scenario in which Southee isn't operating with a crisp new ball at the World Cup.
Obviously, Southee's recent form suggests otherwise and that's the negative context lingering around him. Hence this is super duper weird and come the end of the World Cup, we could very easily be at either end of the Southee spectrum; pondering the slide of ODI Southee or hailing his 'comeback'.
Worth noting at this point is while Boult's taken 9w @ 15.66avg/3.91rpo in 36ov vs India during this series, his new ball partners haven't shared in that success. Bracewell bowled 10ov in game two @ 5.90rpo and then 6ov in game three @ 8.16rpo, with his only wicket in this series coming in game one when he was the fourth bowler used.
Henry took the new ball in game four, bowling 8ov @ 3.75rpo and that's healthy - in alignment with Henry's status as the underground king. Some would say that bowling conditions at Seddon Park were better than the other three games prior, or that Boult's rip-snorting performance meant that Henry could consistently bowl at new batsmen; variables to keep in mind.
There is an air of simplicity around the Blackcaps at the moment. Any chatter about player selection is a case of do this, do that without exploring the seemingly endless ramifications or context around those players. Southee is the prime example of this and as we wiggle our way through the summer, we've got a whole lot more to figure out.
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Peace and love 27.