Right arm medium fast. The most common type of bowler in the world, except for perhaps orthodox off spin, or part time medium. But if you are from New Zealand, you would have seen a fair few right arm medium fast bowlers turn out for the Black Caps.
Tim Southee is looking like he might become one of the best. His command of outswing, his accuracy, and his ability to deliver wickets at crucial moments have set him apart from the rest of the field. Best of all, he is a mere 24 years old, has stayed largely injury free relative to other pace bowlers and seems to be supremely fit.
Southee’s career began with a blaze of glory, 6 wickets in an innings and a barnstorming knock against England. He then drifted into the depths of mediocrity, with a bowling average ballooning into the high 30s and 40s. For most followers of New Zealand cricket, it was clear that we had been tricked once again. Another false dawn from another overrated player who had one good game.
About 12 months ago, things started to change. He ripped through India in Bangalore in unfriendly conditions, and then did it again a few months later against Sri Lanka. This was followed by a reasonable summer series against England, in one game taking 5 wickets, all top or middle order batsmen. Finally, at Lords he capped off a remarkable turnaround by sparking a collapse late on day 3, and stomping on the tail the next morning. His first 10 wicket match haul came at Lords, against the second best side in the world, setting up a chance (alas, the batting) to win a test away.
Raw statistics tell some of the story of his revival. 12 months ago his average was a whopping 44. Those are the sort of numbers that Sri Lanka’s third choice seamer would be ashamed of. In the last year though, his 39 wickets have come at an average of 21.61. His economy rate and strike rate have also improved markedly. Bear in mind too that he has been bowling to some of the best batsmen in the world. In 8 matches, 4 have been against England, 2 Sri Lanka, one each for India and the West Indies. Those are serious test teams, and Southee has been equal to all of them.
Then there is the comparison to other bowlers over the same period to consider. Few frontline seamers have been his equal. Steyn and Philander obviously have better averages, Tino Best who has bolstered his against weak teams is also up there. Apart from that though there are plenty of notable names a long way behind Southee on the list. The likes of James Anderson, James Pattinson, Siddle, Broad, Sharma, Starc, the list seems endless.
So the question is, will this be a good patch in an otherwise disappointing career? Or are we seeing the maturing of one of the great New Zealand cricketers? We won’t know for a long time of course, any number of things could go wrong still, not least the weight of expectation could be too much. But I doubt it. Tim Southee has been acknowledged as the attack leader for some time now, and he has responded to the challenge. Provided he keeps learning his craft, he will one day be considered one of the best bowler the country has ever seen.
But for god’s sake Tim, stop slogging every time you go out to bat.