Matt Henry: 'You pinch yourself when you hear those stats'

NZ seamer's 7 for 23 are the best figures by a New Zealand bowler at home, joint with Richard Hadlee

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
Matt Henry picked up his first five-for in Tests, New Zealand vs South Africa, 1st Test, Christchurch, 1st day, February 17, 2022

Matt Henry picked up his first five-for in Tests  •  AFP/Getty Images

"Pretty cool," is how Matt Henry described his feelings after claiming the best figures by a New Zealand bowler at home and the joint-third best overall. He shares the record with Richard Hadlee, who was in the stands at the Hagley Oval, watching Henry claim 7 for 23.
"You pinch yourself a little bit when you hear those stats," a beaming Henry said afterwards, though he hasn't always had reason to be quite as cheerful in his Test career.
Henry made his Test debut almost seven years ago, in May 2015. Since then, New Zealand have played 55 Tests and Henry has featured in just 15. If you're wondering why you haven't seen more of him, it's simply because he isn't high enough up the pecking order.
With Tim Southee, Trent Boult and Neil Wagner as first-choice and more recently, Kyle Jamieson, who has only missed one Test since his debut, Henry has found himself jostling for a spot that is not always available. "It's not always easy (to stay motivated)," he said. "You try not to focus too much on those external things you can't control and make sure I am still in the mindset of trying to keep getting better and when I do get my opportunity, to take it."
And take it he did. On his home ground, where Brendon McCullum in post-play television interviews, said Henry's first-class record has been "middling" (before this Test, he had claimed 42 wickets in 10 first-class matches at Hagley Oval at 26.59 including 0 for 87 against Australia and 1 for 93 against Pakistan), Henry demonstrated perfectly how to exploit helpful conditions.
"He swung the ball a little bit and he brought the ball back. And there was a wobble seam - the odd one. He bowled really well and made our batters play," an admiring Duanne Olivier said afterwards.
Of the 90 deliveries Henry bowled in South Africa's innings, ESPNcricinfo scoring data shows he forced batters to play at a third of them. With seam movement into the left-handers and away from the right-handers, he created doubt in the batters' minds and many of the South Africans found themselves stuck on the crease, hanging their bats out. He also extracted good bounce from back of a length and together with Jamieson and Wagner stalled all notion of run-scoring.
"We were beating the bat a lot and asked a lot of questions for a good sustained period. That all leads to pressure," Henry said. "That ability to tie it up at both ends and carry on that pressure is what we managed to do today. As a bowling group, we bowled really well together. We didn't really let them go anywhere which was key to how we got the wickets."
Between the 11th and 16th over, South Africa only scored five runs. Between the 20th and 28th, they managed just seven. They went to lunch with 44 runs from 28 overs and found themselves having to force things, which only led to more wickets. Temba Bavuma, uncharacteristically, gave his wicket away when he flicked Southee to midwicket, in what could only have been an effort to get things moving immediately after lunch.
Zubayr Hamza and Kyle Verreynne gave South Africa their best chance of a fightback but both have work to do on their technique. Hamza's footwork was severely lacking and Verreynne needs to tighten up around off stump but it's difficult to be too harsh on a pair that have just nine Test caps between them. In fact, with Ngidi (13) ruled out a back spasm and Keegan Petersen (5) absent, this was South Africa's least experienced playing XI since March 1998, with only 235 Tests between them. But perhaps experience isn't everything because as Henry, in his 15th match, showed, application and execution can go a long way.
South Africa have had more time than usual to prepare for this series, thanks to the 10-day quarantine period they had to serve, during which they could train at a venue similar to Hagley Oval. "We practiced at Lincoln where the wicket was green as well, similar to this one," Olivier said. "We knew coming here that it was the most bowler-friendly wicket in New Zealand. It was a touch soft, a bit more tennis-ball bounce and when the sun was out, it was harder and quickened up a little bit. It will just play very similarly right through the four days. It will probably get a bit better for batting depending on the weather."
With bowlers expected to continue to benefit from the surface, Olivier remained hopeful that South Africa can find their way back in this match. "We can still bowl them out for 180," he said. And Henry remained cautiously confident that New Zealand can press their advantage further on the second day. "The way our batters went about it tonight was really important. Hopefully, we can really knuckle down and have a good day tomorrow. We understand it's day one of five."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent