Blackcaps Test Championship: Searching For That Threat

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As Jofra Archer tormented Australia in his first Test, in his typically chill way, thoughts of what could be added to the Blackcaps Test bowling group started to wiggle through the clutter. Aotearoa lost their first Test Championship in Sri Lanka and while nothing dramatic should come of that loss, now is a good time to chuck Lockie Ferguson's name out there as a possible tool to add to the Blackcaps bowling belt.

This isn't really anything new on these pages. After his first two seasons saw Ferguson average 40 and 76.50, Ferguson took his First Class season bowling average below 25 for each of the following five seasons. My favourite little stat thingy is how Ferguson's best domestic/franchise bowling average is in First Class cricket (24.65), then List A (25.35) and then T20 (28.93). Ferguson has been nipping rapid deliveries into right-handers, skittling stumps and dabbling in a cheeky bouncer or two, for five Plunket Shield campaigns and then, exploded into a strong World Cup campaign.

Which two bowlers finished with better bowling records than Archer at the World Cup? Mitchell Starc the Senor Ferguson. A wicket in all nine games, 2+ wickets in six of those games and one could argue that Ferguson's emergence was funkier than Archer's considering the hype around Archer prior to the World Cup. Archer had to wait a Test, then he waltzed into the Ashes riding on the back of his World Cup excellence and had an immediate impact.

Ferguson on the other hand, has now been named in the Blackcaps T20 squad to play a series following the second Test. There isn't exactly a shortage of kiwi bowlers who could bolster the seam department; Colin de Grandhomme and Neil Wagner didn't play the first Test but are in the squad, Matt Henry wasn't required and then you can pluck your favourite seamer out of Aotearoa and highlight them as next up candidates.

With regards to the first Test in Sri Lanka and moving into this second Test, it feels like the team needs Neil Wagner. Notice how I'm only discussing seamers, even though they are playing Sri Lanka with four spinners in the squad? Will Somerville and Ajaz Patel were solid, good enough to re-up for the second Test with more experience to their combined eight Tests. Mitchell Santner's place could be up for grabs, although Santner might be helped by our favourite chucker Kane Williamson pulling away from bowling duties.

The current reality is that whether you bring in de Grandhomme, it's a basic righty-seamer. Southee operates in the same bracket now, where Matt Henry also resides. These are the typical kiwi seamer who thrive in seam-friendly conditions, hence the Blackcaps dominate in Aotearoa. When those conditions haven't been so favourable, Wagner becomes a factor and he would offer a dose of x-factor that the kiwis lacked as the pitch for the first Test offered less and less.

Wagner's fine and his record speaks for itself. I'm leaning into thinking of Ferguson as that type of Test bowler and in hindsight, I would have loved to have seen Ferguson picked in this Test squad on the back of such a strong World Cup. Bit crazy, coming in hot from cow's corner but what would give the kiwis a point of difference in these kind of conditions, especially as they target wins away from home in the Test Championship, would be abnormal pace.

I caught this vibe in watching Archer and then to a lesser extent Lahiru Kumara - not quite on the level but a case of a weapon who could be used diligently. Shorter spells, rip in and try to take a wicket while our slightly more defensive bowlers do their job. Wagner does this the best, with the ability to do it for a longer period of time and his sole objective is to take wickets. Wagner isn't getting younger and the Blackcaps need to maintain that wicket-taking threat as they move through the Test Championship.

The Blackcaps are all good in Aotearoa. They know what to do, how to do it and have the depth to always (usually) be favourites in Aotearoa. The Blackcaps will also need to win away from Aotearoa and with a general history of not being so good overseas, the Blackcaps' Test Championship standing will be heavily impacted by what happens overseas. Losing Tests? Not good and the kiwis will need to fire more shots to consistently get draws, then wins overseas.

Ferguson offers the most hope as a weapon who can thrive in less than favourable conditions. In the moment, Wagner is still doing that job and should get a chance to prove himself in the second Test. Don't overlook Fergsuon though and while he has quite clearly put put in a while ball box, I'm doubling down on Ferguson being the most intriguing Aotearoa Test Championship bowler.

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