Match Analysis

Zak Crawley saw the signs, but Trent Boult opened up his eyes

Batters always know what's coming when Boult takes the new ball. The problem is doing something about it

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
24-Jun-2022
Trent Boult tore into England's top-order, England vs New Zealand, 3rd Test, Headingley, 2nd day, June 24, 2022

Trent Boult tore into England's top-order  •  Getty Images

Zak Crawley knows what's coming. Joe Root, at the non-striker's end, knows what's coming. Everyone in Headingley's sell-out crowd knows what's coming: the guy queuing at the bar, the steward facing the stands and the Yorkshire member who has drifted off in the afternoon sun. And none of them can do anything about it.
Trent Boult is standing at the top of his mark and is about to bowl an inswinger. Crawley knows this, because he's seen him shape balls away from the left-handed Alex Lees and into the right-handed Ollie Pope: the first kissed the top of off stump, the second ripped it out of the ground.
He knows it because Kane Williamson has left cover wide open, with a vast gap between point and mid-off. He knows it because Boult has openly, brazenly gestured to Williamson, telling him that he is dragging Crawley across the crease. He knows it because he has offered no shot to three of the first four balls of the over, each of them outswingers, and defended the one that held its line. He knows it because, quite frankly, how couldn't he?
But Crawley has a problem. Twice already in this series, he has edged behind when Boult has bowled him a wobble-seam ball, or as he would call it, a "three-quarter" ball. He has scored 56 runs in the series and is averaging 27.21 after 23 Tests. As Chris Eigeman's character says in Noah Baumbach's film Kicking and Screaming: "What I used to able to pass off as a bad summer could now potentially turn into a bad life."
Boult runs in and bowls an inswinger, perhaps the most inevitable inswinger he has ever bowled. It's full, it's straight, and it crashes into middle-and-leg stump, three-quarters of the way up. Crawley's bat comes down at an angle as he shapes to drive him back down the ground, towards mid-on, and marches straight off towards the dressing room, bowled through the gate.
It is the finishing touch on a stunning spell of new-ball bowling, the sort of unplayable, unmissable spell that only left-armers can produce: for Shaheen Shah Afridi in T20s and Mitchell Starc in ODIs, read Trent Boult in Tests. Since Boult's Test debut, over a decade ago, he has bowled 72 batters, more than any other seamer.
The scorecard is extraordinary: AZ Lees b Boult 4, Z Crawley b Boult 6, OJD Pope b Boult 5. Top-order batters are meant to be caught behind or lbw in Test cricket; England's top three have all been bowled. They are 17 for 3 after 6.5 overs and Boult has 3 for 9, without needing anyone else - a wicketkeeper, a fielder, an umpire - to help him out. Of those nine runs, the first four came from an outside edge which burst through Daryl Mitchell's hands at slip.
That outside edge came from Lees, who lost his off stump three balls later. Boult had started just short of a good length, looking to test Lees' judgment as to whether to play or leave, whether to attack or defend. He flashed hard at the second ball which flew high and fast to Mitchell, and through his fingers for four.
Boult's fifth ball was fuller, but still only a fraction full of a traditional good length. It angled in, jagged away past Lees' outside edge as he presented a full face, and knocked back the top of his off stump. His celebrations - gently high-fiving his team-mates with a furrowed brow as if to suggest that this near-perfect outswinger at 86mph/138kph was nothing out of the ordinary - portrayed a man who knew there was more to come.
Pope faced a diet of inswingers, clipping one off his pads for four but otherwise struggling with Boult's high-strength cocktail of movement and accuracy at brisk pace. The ball immediately before his dismissal, Pope had jammed down late to cover the swing, pulling out of a punch into the off side; to the next, he came forward to drive, then looked around to see his off stump lying halfway to Tom Blundell after the ball had zipped back through the gate.
England's response to Boult's swing - in keeping with their new style - was to swing themselves. They hit six boundaries in the second half of his spell, taking 34 runs from his next four overs to leave him with surreal, unflattering figures of 8-2-43-3 when replaced by Tim Southee: it was neither subtle nor convincing, and by the time his spell was over, England were in a wreckage at 69 for 6.
When he returned for a second spell, Jonny Bairstow and Jamie Overton had changed the game entirely. How different might the day have been if Bairstow's French cut down to fine leg had hit the base of his leg stump, rather than skewing past it off the inside edge?
In a series featuring four of the best seam bowlers of the last 20 years, Boult has been the standout. He is the leading wicket-taker on either side - that, after landing in London two-and-a-half days before the first Test, immediately after spearheading Rajasthan Royals' attack as they reached the IPL final.
"He's world-class, isn't he?" Daryl Mitchell said. "That spell up top showed how good he really is. It's awesome to see him have some success. He's obviously done seriously well with Rajasthan in the IPL and to see him come out here a few days later and dominate Test cricket is really cool."
Boult told The Cricket Monthly last year that his gameplan has always been as simple as "trying to bring batsmen across the stumps, and then swing it in and try to hit them on the pads". Batters always know what is coming when Boult takes the new ball. The problem is doing something about it.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98