Swing it like Southee
So many details must align for a fast bowler to deliver a swinging delivery that at times it is a wonder when it is produced over and again, and sustained over a spell. Bowlers talk of rhythm in their approach to the crease; each footstep is as a drum sounding steadily louder, and if the beat is just not right, the crescendo is poorer for it. The front leg bracing on the popping crease just so - an inch of additional slide could throw the action out of kilter. The pivot in the hips that surges through the torso and up the arm to help impart the backspin that breeds the swerve. The wrist locked in place as all around it blurs in the bowler's windmill. The fingers, the seam, the release.
It is as if the bowler has a dozen dials to twist anew on each delivery, and if one is slightly askew, his body manufactures a dud.
Tim Southee produced seven overs of swing bowling of such high quality at the start of day two, that the ball didn't talk so much as scream at the batsman as it veered towards him. Sri Lanka arrived at the ground today with hopes of grinding out a large first-innings lead - a routine they rehearse almost every time they play in Galle. Yet fifty minutes into the day, at 50 for 5, they were staring down the barrel of a large deficit.
It wasn't just movement from Southee, it was nous and control too, and those are not qualities he has possessed for long. When Brendon McCullum put down Suraj Randiv at third slip, Southee immediately replicated the delivery, and had the batsman caught at second. He showed glimpses of that control in the ODIs, and it appears as if Shane Bond's appointment as bowling coach has already begun to pay dividends for Southee and the remainder of New Zealand's pace battery. Chaminda Vaas has also come on board for this tour as an advisor, and his influence too, seems evident.
Vaas was once the master of the long con. He would set up the batsman over several overs, sometimes over a couple of spells, bowling exclusively outswing, then abruptly bring one back in to trap him in front or knock him over. Southee dusted off a decent impression today.
Of the first 15 balls Southee bowled to Samaraweera, 14 were outswing deliveries and one was a bouncer. He finally jagged it back in on the 16th ball, but it pitched far enough outside off stump for Samaraweera to leave safely. Southee didn't make the same mistake the next delivery. He pitched this one just outside off stump and seamed it back in to hit Samaraweera in line with off, as the batsman shouldered arms again. To have such command over both those deliveries is impressive, yet to use that variation as sparingly and effectively as Southee did is proof of his increasing maturity.
"Chaminda's got a lot of knowledge of playing in these conditions," Southee said at the end of the day's play. "He's fit nicely into the environment and had a lot to offer since he's been with us. There are little things that he's passed on as a bowler and I think we bowled well as a result today. I spoke to him before and he said it does swing here, so we were expecting it to swing,"
Southee has room yet to grow, but at 23, time in spades to do it. Excited by movement he was generating, Southee went looking for the dream delivery that pitched on leg and curled around to hit off, but his wrists wouldn't comply on that angle, and that delivery would routinely be the only ball in the over that didn't swing at all. Too often the batsmen found respite at the other end via an easy glance to fine leg.
If Southee wants to become a truly great bowler, perhaps he would do well to develop the patience that would see him keep his opponents pinned. The magic ball looks great on the highlights reel back at the team hotel, but he can likely count on one hand the scalps he has claimed with it in his career, and on a pitch so dry as Galle, the odds are stacked high against him.
He has been around the Test team for over four years now, and if his recent results in the subcontinent are any indication, his experience is doing him good. He took seven for 64 against India in Bangalore in September and was unlucky not to complete a five-wicket haul today. His legcutter to rap Mahela Jayawardene in the pads in the middle session is indicative of an expanding armoury and a sharpening wit.
"I think I'm still on a learning curve," he said. "I have had some very poor Tests over the last couple of years and I was out of the Test side at the start of the year. It's good to be back and taking wickets. I'll try and make the most of this period of time where I'm picking up a few more wickets and hopefully that can continue. I'll keep learning how to bowl in various conditions in different parts of the world."
A burgeoning battery of young fast bowlers shapes as the ladder that will take New Zealand out of the mire they are presently in, in all forms of the game. As was amply evident today, Southee's cricket is awash in skill. If his strategy and temperament continue to bloom, he will become the spearhead to shine the light for a string of sharp, young cohorts.
Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent in Sri Lanka