Drinks break blast spurred Southee burst
If not for some stern words from the leadership pair of Brendon McCullum and Kane Willamson during the final drinks break on Saturday, New Zealand might have found it hard to stop England from marching away with a massive lead. That was the moment Tim Southee pinpointed when asked to reveal exactly what had helped New Zealand bounce back late on the third evening of an exciting first Test.
"The first half of the session we just ambled," said Southee, who bagged three wickets in 17 deliveries to swell his match tally to six. "Brendon pulled the guys up during the drinks session and Kane gave us a few stern words. That did mean something because we were meandering along in the field."
Until that final hour of the day, England had imposed themselves completely. Their bowlers made amends for the errors of Friday, by bowling fuller lengths to earn a first-innings lead. And even when Alastair Cook and Nick Compton had departed in quick succession having made good starts, England recovered through the diligence of the impressive Joe Root and the rock solid Jonathan Trott, who was enjoying playing on one of his favourite grounds, where he has now eight successive 50-plus scores.
Beset by the twin problem of having to keep wicket, after BJ Watling walked off with an injured knee, and losing his lone specialist spinner in Bruce Martin to a calf injury, McCullum threw the ball to Southee, who had gone wicketless in his first spell of the innings. Factors such as a slow pitch, warm sunshine, lack of swing and a pair of batsmen playing aggressively to build England's lead made Southee's task daunting.
His fellow fast-bowling pair of Trent Boult and Neil Wagner had struggled with their lengths and he had seen the England bowlers Stuart Broad and Steve Finn falter the previous afternoon. Perhaps that might have helped him realised quickly that the key was to pitch on the right lengths. "A touch fuller," he said. "There wasn't a hell of a lot of swing there for us throughout the whole of today. We had to try something else before it started to do a little bit during the last session. It was a touch on the slower side but there are still ways to go about it and we had to adjust our lengths."
Southee's patience paid off as he beat the defence of Root, who had shown remarkable composure until his fall. Then Southee earned the distinction of getting Matt Prior for a duck in successive innings of the same Test. "He had a great series in New Zealand," Southee said. "He can take the game away with his destructive nature. He is a big wicket because of the way he can come out and play aggressively and score quickly."
Southee had returned to active cricket after recovering from a thumb injury during the home series against England earlier this year but six wickets at an average of 56 in three Tests - though he bowled better than that suggests - showed he was still regaining fluidity. He admitted that the presence of a strong unit of fast bowlers, including Boult, Wagner and Doug Bracewell, had helped bring out their competitive nature.
Asked to predict which way the match was heading, Southee played it safe, saying that New Zealand could not afford to get too far ahead of themselves because the England tail was still capable of hurting them badly.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo