Trent Boult first scored 38 off 24 balls, and then ended Day 3 with the figures of 3/27. (Source: AP Photo)
Five days before the start of the Wellington Test, Trent Boult dropped in with brother Jono for a club game, representing IMF Elements against Generations Lake Taupo in the Versatile Tauranga Williams Cup. He told him: “Jono, I just need some batting practice.” Boult had just recovered from a broken arm, after getting struck by Mitchell Starc, forcing him to miss the remainder of the Australia Test series and the white-ball leg against India, and perhaps wanted to regain his morale. Lower-order batsmen, even the most useful ones, get finicky if they get hit on their bodies. Stuart Broad, owner of a Test century, was never quite the same post a blow on his body from Varun Aaron in 2014.
Jono told him: “You can bat at number 4.” Later, after Boult scythed through the opponents with a four-wicket burst and bundling them out for 66, he told him: “You’re the No 3, pad up.” Boult kept waiting but the opportunity never arrived and he was aghast at his brother.
“Don’t worry bro, you’ll get to bat in the Test,” Jono consoled him.
He did, and demonstrated why he likes to bat. His helter-skelter 38 off 24 balls was classic No. 11 stuff, a freewheeling show of wanton strokes that flew from his bat from parts he didn’t know and to areas of the field which he didn't plan. His pre-delivery strides were hilarious, he would move all over the place, sometimes back away to the edge of the crease, sometimes shuffle across, expose his stumps, sometimes shimmy down the track, sometimes move deep into the crease. Then he would look to slap, heave, sweep, hoick, of course slog, paddle, slash, at times conceding the impression that he wants to play all the strokes at once. Something like batting on a one-wheeled bike, or with skates under his shoes. So wildly was Boult swinging that even a mistimed shot off Ashwin sailed over long-on. In essence, it was throwback to the times when lower-order batsmen provided more entertainment than value addition.
But in the context of this game, he both added value as well as entertained, so much so that there was rippling laughter each time he attempted something funny, and he did so each ball. His 38 runs swelled New Zealand’s lead and annoyed the Indian bowlers. But he was still angry with himself, not at missing a probable half-century, but a first Test hundred.
New Zealand's Trent Boult celebrates bowling India's Cheteshwar Pujara for 11 (Source: AP)
On a slightly serious note — he can never be fully serious — he says: “ My hand is still not quite right. I enjoy my batting, it looks like I’m laughing and mucking around, but nice to make contact with a couple today. I guess it was just a bit of fun. In terms of the lower order, we do speak a bit about the bottom four being able to contribute. I suppose in the big scheme of things being able to push the lead a bit further forward is useful. ” His four centuries at club level attest to some sort of untapped batting potential.
In many ways, his bowling resembled his batting on Sunday. Not in the hilarity of it, but in the way he used the crease. Realising that it wasn’t the pitch where he could relentlessly hit one area, Boult changed his line of thought. Like a trained sleuth, he began grilling the Indian batsmen with different interrogation methods. Full balls interspersed with good-length first, short ball next, then a medley of all these in the same over. Then he went around the stumps, then reverted to over the wicket, then back to around the stumps. Likewise, he would bowl one delivery from wide of the crease and the next from closer to the stumps. He would bowl a slow bouncer, immediately follow it up with a quicker one. It the situation demanded slowing up the proceedings, he would amble back to his run-up; if it commanded the opposite, when the light was fading and the team wanted to sneak in as many overs as possible, he would bullet back to his run-up.
Then he makes no fuss of it. Smiles disarmingly, and puts it down to sheer hard work and experience. “I think the luxury is that I have played a lot of cricket at the Basin Reserve. Generally, the wind is the biggest thing to deal with. But if I can chop and change those angles and not let a batsmen get familiar or get set with what I'm trying to do, then I hope that will interrupt them. That's the luxury of being a left-armer and being able to use those subtle changes. If that’s (swing) not happening for me, then it comes down to changing angles and using different parts of the crease,” he explained. Just like he used different parts of the crease to get his runs.
So much of his variegated skills are wrapped under the condescending swing-bowler category. He’s much more than that, has several bows in his string, and arguably New Zealand’s most complete bowler after Richard Hadlee. And as he likes to brag in his CV, a handy lower-order batsman.