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Feature

The Boult legacy: how will NZ cope without Southee's other half?

He and Southee have risen through the ranks together in New Zealand cricket and put on another show in their last league game

Trent Boult is all smiles as the batter attempts to take him on in his final World Cup match, New Zealand vs PNG, Tarouba,T20 World Cup 2024, June 17, 2024

Trent Boult is all smiles as the batter attempts to take him on in his final World Cup match  •  ICC/Getty Images

You thought it would happen. A Trent Boult wicket in the first over. A wicket off an unplayable delivery swinging into the right-hand batter. A fairytale end of sorts to his T20 World Cup journey.
The first ball he bowled against PNG had the makings of it. A full, swinging delivery which could have struck opener Tony Ura's front pad. But Ura defended it and even managed to get a quick single, giving strike to left-hand opener Assad Vala, who survived the rest of the over. In the next over, Boult bowled to Vala once again, continuing to take the ball away from him, but off the fourth delivery, the batter came down and whacked it over Boult's head.
Boult has bowled at least one over inside the first six overs of an innings in every T20I he has played. In his first spell in T20Is, he has taken at least one wicket 20 times in 61 innings. He had done so in the last two matches leading up to this game at the T20 World Cup 2024. But in his last T20 World Cup game, in overcast conditions suited for his bowling style, he could not get a wicket with the new ball. The irony.
Making up for it at the other end was his close pal Tim Southee. He struck with his third ball, troubling Ura with late swing and making him edge one to backward point. Boult and Southee have taken a combined 49 wickets in the powerplay in the 44 T20Is they have played together. And 20 wickets in the 15 T20 World Cup games they have featured together in. Southee is New Zealand's top wicket-taker in men's T20 World Cups, Boult is behind him at No. 2. You can't talk about Boult without mentioning Southee. Or is it the other way around?

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Boult has played 18 matches in T20 World Cups. He has gone wicketless only in three of them, the consistency proving how he has been doing what he is best at, time and again.
In 2014, with just three T20Is behind him, the then 24-year-old Boult was given a chance at the T20 World Cup. He was brought on in place of Southee for their third match against Netherlands in Chattogram. On a pitch not well suited to his bowling, he bowled a spell of 4-0-25-1, getting a wicket in the powerplay. He showed why he was the real deal in the next match, against Sri Lanka, with an astounding new-ball spell. On a breezy evening, he found movement in the air and off the surface, troubling both right-hand and left-hand batters, as he picked up the wickets of Kusal Perera, Tillakaratne Dilshan and Kumar Sangakkara inside the powerplay to finish with 3 for 20.
He didn't get a single game at the 2016 T20 World Cup. Nor did Southee. New Zealand went in with one pace bowler and two spinners on spin-friendly Indian pitches. Neither Boult nor Southee was their first-choice fast bowler.
"As a guy, he's got such a big appetite to keep getting better, trains hard... very fit, and very clear with how he wants to operate. He has held himself in great stead across formats, sticks his chest out and performs well"
Kane Williamson on Trent Boult
Then came the 2021 T20 World Cup, where Boult played a crucial role in New Zealand's run to the final. The short balls and cutters did the trick for him on slower wickets in the UAE. There was the 3 for 20 against India. And the Afghanistan game where Boult and Southee took a combined 5 for 41. Even in a one-sided final against a dominant Australia, Boult bagged 2 for 18, when the rest of the New Zealand bowlers went for over seven an over. Boult finished with 13 wickets in the tournament.
T20 World Cup 2022. Not Boult's best but he had his moments. Three wickets inside the powerplay against Sri Lanka. The late dismissals of Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan in the loss against Pakistan. Southee, too, did not hit his stride after the first match against Australia.
This World Cup, too, had many Boult-y moments. The sizzling yorker to Rahmanullah Gurbaz in the first match against Afghanistan. The 3 for 16 against West Indies. The neat double-wicket first over against Uganda. Or how he came back in the 16th over to bowl Hiri Hiri against PNG and finish with figures of 2 for 15. And his friend Southee, with 2 for 11.

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It was perhaps not how New Zealand had anticipated to finish at the T20 World Cup or send off one of their greats. Boult and Southee were all smiles as they signed autographs for the fans in Tarouba after the win against PNG. They have risen through the ranks from age groups to playing domestic cricket together and have gone on to become two of the best bowlers the country has produced. Five T20 World Cups together, one of which was spent sitting out together. They just do not give a chance to talk about one without mentioning the other - even at the ground after the match, they were getting ready for (yet another) interview together. One last time, at a World Cup?
This, while captain Kane Williamson, another great from their generation, was speaking about Boult's legacy at the post-match presentation.
"I think after every tournament there's a bit of reflection, this being Trent's last ICC tournament, great servant of our game and the world game," Williamson said.
"Sad to see him go but that's the nature of playing for a long time. As a guy, he's got such a big appetite to keep getting better, trains hard... very fit, and very clear with how he wants to operate. He has held himself in great stead across formats, sticks his chest out and performs well.
"He has made a fantastic contribution and has created the space for new players to come in."
A space - one half of a once-in-a-generation pair - that will be hard to fill for New Zealand before the next T20 World Cup in 2026.

Sruthi Ravindranath is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo