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March 18, 2008
John Bracewell, New Zealand's coach, has hinted that the fast bowler Tim Southee, who starred in the recent Under-19 World Cup in Malaysia, could be in line for a Test debut against England in Napier this week, as New Zealand look to bounce back from Monday's 126-run defeat in the second Test at Wellington.
Southee took 17 wickets at 6.64 to take his New Zealand team to the semi-finals in Malaysia, a performance that earned him the Man-of-the-Tournament award. Prior to that, he had impressed with his pace, control and temperament during his Twenty20 debut against England at Auckland, where he finished with 1 for 38 from four overs.
Though he is still nine months short of his 20th birthday, Southee was added to New Zealand's third Test squad as cover for Kyle Mills, who reported soreness behind the left knee after the Wellington defeat. Bracewell, however, suggested he was not simply there to make up the numbers.
"He's a class bowler and the selectors have been watching him for some time," said Bracewell. "They believe he's ready for the job. If the surface is as predicted at Napier, there will be something in it in the first session, then after that it will be reasonably flat. The defining factor will probably be swing bowling, and at the moment England have the edge on us in that department.
"All of England's bowlers, apart from [Steve] Harmison, swing it, and swing it reasonably late," he added. "We really have only got Kyle Mills who swings it on a consistent basis. Therefore, having that extra option of genuine swing might put the balance back on an even keel."
After their exertions on a flat track in Hamilton, New Zealand's senior bowlers were visibly off the pace at Wellington, in particular Chris Martin, whose three wickets came at more than 50 apiece. "We are happy with our bowling depth but we are looking for an extra day in terms of recovery," said Bracewell. "There's a bit of wear and tear, from the consistent cricket that Chris and Kyle have had over last season. We've got options around the squad, but there's time to get these two close for the next Test."
Bracewell's temptation to tinker with his attack was no doubt prompted by the success of England's revamped line-up. Out went the two stalwarts, Matthew Hoggard and Steve Harmison, and into the fray came James Anderson and Stuart Broad. Both suffered at the hands of New Zealand's strokeplayers during the one-day internationals, but bounced back to play major roles in England's victory.
Peter Moores, England's coach, was delighted with the impact his new attack had made, and gave a clear signal that Anderson, Broad and Ryan Sidebottom would take some shifting now that they'd earned their places in the starting eleven. "The lads who have got possession, that's always a strong place to be," he said. "If they keep playing well they're going to give themselves a great chance of carrying on.
"It was quite a tough decision to make that change, especially on Matthew Hoggard," said Moores. "He's at an age where he's still got a lot of bowling left in him, which is good for us because we've got to make a squad which is very competitive. I don't think there was any complacency in the squad before the changes, but the thing about competitiveness in any job is that it's good because it keeps everyone pushing forward."
Bracewell was also impressed with what he saw from England, and claimed he hadn't been surprised by the impact of the new incumbents. "I felt that Anderson is a class bowler, a genuine swing bowler, and this was a ground for swing bowling. He got taken to in the last two one-dayers, but that's the nature of one-day cricket. Broad has bowled a heavy length throughout the one-dayers, and once again he went a little square in the last one. But both of them are good bowlers. They bowled well as a unit."
New Zealand's captain, Daniel Vettori, had been openly critical of the Wellington pitch prior to the second Test, feeling that the extra pace and bounce it provided would play into the hands of England's bowlers. But Bracewell took a slightly different stance. "To tip the balance in our favour, we would have liked to play two spinners, but it was an excellent pitch," he said. "The defining moment in the match was we didn't bowl well to Tim Ambrose."
Ambrose is England's only centurion in the series to date, while New Zealand have only Ross Taylor's 120 at Hamilton to look back on. "Both sides would have liked to have seen more hundreds in the matches," said Bracewell. "But that's a testament to the bowlers on both sides, not necessarily the wickets. They bowled magnificently throughout the series. It's not all about going out there and getting double hundreds. The intriguing cricket comes when a bowler scalps the opposition and probes their weaknesses."
One player who has been unexpectedly well probed is Kevin Pietersen, who is in the midst of the worst run of form of his career. He hasn't reached fifty for 10 consecutive innings, and Bracewell believed that England were suffering as a result. "He's a class player, and a point of difference player. He scores at a rate that generates results, and every Test team needs one of those players. We're really pleased with how we've bowled to him, and cut him down in terms of strike-rate and put pressure on him."
Even so, Bracewell accepted that, following the Wellington defeat, the pressure had now shifted to New Zealand ahead of the Napier decider. "England didn't come over to draw against New Zealand, they expected to win," he said. "They were odds-on favourites, heavily so, and if we can knock them over, we'll be delighted."
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