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The Auckland Test has highlighted the difference between the England and New Zealand bowling attacks when it comes to their ability to swing the ball
March 24, 2013
The subject of swing is one of cricket's most often-debated topics, but one that rarely finishes with any definitive conclusions. That is especially true when there are such clear differences between the ability of one team to move the ball better than the other.
England's bowlers barely got the ball off straight in Auckland through 152 overs of New Zealand's first innings. Even for James Anderson, one of the finest exponents of swing in the world, it was mostly gun-barrel straight. When the home side took the ball on the second evening, however, there was distinct shape for Tim Southee and Trent Boult. It was not always straight, but the threat from one on target, such as Boult trapping Jonathan Trott lbw, was much greater.
Southee continued the trend on the third morning with a high-quality spell of swing bowling that accounted for Nick Compton and Ian Bell to ensure England's top order was knocked over with precious few runs on the board.
The ball to Compton did not actually swing, but that becomes just as dangerous when there has been movement to leave the batsman wary of what is to come. Bell was set up by a series of deliveries shaping way outside off before Southee brought one back into the pads to win another lbw decision. He should have had a third during the afternoon session when he drew Matt Prior into a drive and the edge went low to Dean Brownlie, who could not cling on low at second slip.
Importantly, too, the bowlers were backed up by attacking fields from Brendon McCullum, who often had four slips and rarely fewer than three. Of course, it easy to attack when on top but it is a lesson to Alastair Cook. In Wellington, BJ Watling edged through the vacant third slip when he had 2 runs and the score was 95 for 5. That moment cost England vital time in their race against weather.
Numerous theories were put forward as to why there was such a difference between the two attacks across the first innings. It could be as basic as form and consistency, but Simon Doull, the former New Zealand bowler who could move the ball mile, suggested on local TV that it was to do with the position of the seam. He picked up that Anderson had the seam pointing as far as third slip, while Southee's was towards first. Then there is the argument of bowling fuller, which New Zealand's seamers undoubtedly did here. Stuart Broad's six wickets in Wellington largely came from a fuller length - as did his wicket today of Ross Taylor - but Steven Finn is not a swing bowler and his full deliveries can become floaty.
More prosaically, it could just come down to the ball that was picked out of the box, as sometimes one just does not swing, or whether it gets wet as it did for New Zealand in Wellington. It is often said that the darker the leather, the more likely the ball is to swing. Choosing the ball is the job of the senior seamer, so you would think that Southee is the man with that role in the New Zealand team. He may have got lucky with his choice, or he could have pulled out a blinder for his side.
The mystery of swing
Southee's stock and trade is swing. He marked his debut by taking five wickets against England in Napier during the 2008 series. His career did not flourish immediately in the way that first outing suggested and Auckland is only his 23rd Test. This has also been a fairly barren series for him; his wicket of Compton was his first since his second over of the series when he bowled the same batsman in Dunedin. He deserved some reward in Wellington, especially on the second day, but started this Test with a return of 1 for 216.
However, in the last couple of years he has shown, on a number of occasions, his ability to trouble top-class batting line-ups. And it has not always been on conditions you would expect. In the space of three Tests on the subcontinent - one against India in Bangalore and two against Sri Lanka - he collected 20 wickets. That included a career-best 7 for 64 in Bangalore and a match-winning haul to help New Zealand level the series in Colombo. Returns like that do not come by accident. He would not have prevented the one-sided series in South Africa, but his bowling was missed when a thumb injury ruled him out of tour.
His efforts warranted more than the final figures of 3 for 44. Instead it was Boult who ended with the headline return of 6 for 68 - his maiden five-wicket haul in Tests. He had set the tone on the second evening with a spell that quickly put England's effort into context.
The combination of Boult and Southee were central to New Zealand's most recent Test win, the victory in Colombo, when they shared 15 wickets in the match. Despite the wobble at the start of the second innings, they have a fantastic opportunity for a repeat performance.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Andrew McGlashan
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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