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Southee admits 'no hiding' from lack of wickets as form overshadows 100th Test

The New Zealand captain is under some pressure heading into the final Test of the season against Australia

Alex Malcolm
Alex Malcolm
Tim Southee cut a lonely figure out in the middle of Hagley Oval on Wednesday. It is rare that in the middle of the afternoon two days out from a Test match there is no one on the playing surface.
But while New Zealand's players trained in the nets out the back, and the ground staff had all disappeared to attend to other matters, Southee was running shuttles alone on the verdant outfield.
It is a week of celebration for Southee and his mate Kane Williamson as they play their 100th Tests together. But for Southee, it doesn't quite feel as celebratory as it does for Williamson. Some time alone with his thoughts might have been a relief, but they also might have been torturous.
New Zealand are under pressure, 1-0 down in the two-Test series, and Southee is at the centre of it. Former New Zealand captain Ross Taylor has offered some rare criticism of Southee and the team, although it has not been as sharp or as pointed as some in the media have suggested.
But Southee doesn't need to be told. He knows what his recent Test record looks like and he's not shying away from it.
"You always want to be performing at your best and I think there's no hiding from the fact that the currency we deal in as a bowler is wickets, and the last three Test matches I haven't got the wickets I would have liked," Southee said on Thursday.
"I still feel like there's more to it. There's roles within that as well. I have probably not been where I should be as the most experienced bowler seamer the side. But like everyone, each week you're trying to get better. Each week you're trying to go out and put your best foot forward. Prepare as well as you can to give yourself the best chance and that's the same over the last couple of days. I've done that.
"But there's no hiding from the fact that the last couple of Test matches have been disappointing. I know that. I'd always like more wickets. And hopefully, there's some to come."
Southee didn't opt to bowl in the nets on Wednesday. Before his solo running session, he worked on his own on a practice pitch in the centre under the watchful eye of stand-in bowling coach Kyle Mills. The pair had earlier met for a coffee on Monday in Wellington.
Southee was pragmatic about his recent bowling efforts, but he said he and Mills had identified a couple of areas to improve.
"I've felt okay at times," Southee said. "Sometimes you feel good and you don't get the wickets. Sometimes you feel not so good and you actually pick up a few wickets. So I think it's just about trusting your game. Trusting what you do.
"I've worked hard over the last couple of days alongside Kyle Mills on a couple of things. So it'd be great to finish the season strong. Just a couple of minor things that we've been looking at over the last couple of days.
"You don't always get the wickets you feel like you should but hopefully I can contribute to what should be a good week."
Southee becomes the first bowler to play 100 internationals in each format this week. It is a remarkable feat. He has shown an extraordinary ability to adapt and endure across 16 years at the top of the game. He revealed that desire to evolve is still there, as evidenced by his running session on Wednesday.
"I think no one's getting any younger," Southee said. "But the desire to train, to work hard away from the game is still there. It's an absolute honour to do what we do and represent our country and I still love that.
"I still wake up every morning hoping to go out there and do people proud and put performances on the board. So as long as that's still there and you can come live to those standards then..."
But he didn't get to finish that sentence as another question about Wagner's retirement was fired his way. Perhaps it was the universe sending him a message. Perhaps it could be fuel to rekindle a fire within that has become embers in recent weeks.
Southee is under no illusions the game owes him nothing despite all he has given to it. He and New Zealand will hope he doesn't cut a lonely figure in the field this week.

Alex Malcolm is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo