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India brace for another Boult examination

With a strike rate that's up there with the very best in ODI history, the left-arm quick brings cutting edge to a New Zealand attack that otherwise relies on building pressure through dot balls. How India negotiate his spells could prove key to the way th

Sidharth Monga
Sidharth Monga
Getty Images

Getty Images

India's series-levelling win in Pune was set up by their bowlers who restricted the New Zealand batting to 230, but in chasing the total down without incident, India checked a small psychological box. For only the ninth time in his 53-ODI career, Trent Boult was denied a wicket. New Zealand have won only two of those nine matches.
Three days earlier, Boult had been critical to keeping India down to 280. He removed the openers with the new ball, and took out MS Dhoni and Hardik Pandya in his later spells. With New Zealand's prime enforcer Mitchell McClenaghan all but lost to international cricket, Boult becomes the most important bowler in their attack. The others are steady and disciplined, but Boult brings that bit of magic.
Boult takes a wicket every 30 balls, which is inside the top 20 strike rates of all time, among bowlers who have taken at least 50 wickets. The top 20 is an interesting list, largely made up of bowlers currently active, but also with bowlers such as Mohammed Shami and Matt Henry, who have not featured in this series so far. Boult was one such bowler not long ago - he has played nearly as many Tests as he has ODIs - but once New Zealand adopted the "hit hard, hit early" policy in ODI cricket, Boult was back in as an integral part.
If there is swing or seam to be had with the new ball, Boult will find it. If there is reverse on offer later, he will extract it. He can change his angles dexterously. He is quick to find the wicket-taking length and bowl it. The six times he has bowled to Rohit Sharma in ODIs, Boult has taken him out three times - with a bouncer, with late swing, and with seam - while only conceding 27 off 50 balls.
With McClenaghan out and with Adam Milne playing ahead of Henry, this is perhaps a thinner-than-usual New Zealand attack when it comes to the ability to manufacture wickets. New Zealand are now forced to skin the cat another way. Shane Jurgensen, their bowling coach, said two days before the decider that it was important his bowlers didn't go searching for wickets, and that they focused on building dots. There is arguably only one man in that attack that can chase wickets. If India can play him out, they are looking at a steady and disciplined attack but not an overly threatening one, an attack that will rely on batsmen's mistakes for wickets.
Virat Kohli, with his impressive record against Boult - 94 runs off 82 balls faced, no dismissals - has shown it can be done without batting too differently to how you do. What India did in Mumbai was completely different. Both Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit went in looking to dominate Boult, perhaps to nip in the bud the one big threat in the opposition attack. If Boult does take an early wicket, Kohli becomes the key man to deny him further inroads. He did this with a century in Mumbai, but a faltering middle order forced him to play with restraint and settle for a middling total.
A big play in the decider of this short series will be Boult's first spell. If it is in the second innings, New Zealand will want to give him considerably more than 230 to defend. They will also want Tim Southee to help him out by creating pressure from the other end. In his first spell, Boult will want to bowl to at least one batsman lower than Kohli in that batting order. It won't be as hot in Kanpur as it was in Mumbai so he will come back even fresher for his later spells.
India will want to score around Boult. The series decider might not be the best time to try to start dominating him. Batsmen will have watched all the videos on their laptops by now. Plans will be in place. Boult will make sure he is fresh and ready - in "peak fitness", as Jurgensen remarked. Bring on that first spell. And the later ones.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo