Trent Boult: 'It felt bizarre to have a Test on down the road and not play in it'

The New Zealand and Rajasthan Royals seamer talks about the club vs country debate, getting Kohli out first ball, and looks ahead to the World Cup

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Trent Boult trapped Virat Kohli lbw first ball, Royal Challengers Bangalore vs Rajasthan Royals, IPL 2023, Bengaluru, April 23, 2023

Boult on knocking Virat Kohli over first-ball: "My oldest son said, 'Are you going to get him out?' I said, 'Probably not.' I couldn't believe it"  •  BCCI

Trent Boult jumps out of the pool, grabs a towel and his Phoenix Suns basketball jersey, and wanders over to perch on a deckchair next to me. Behind him, his wife, Gert, and their three young sons are relaxing in the early-afternoon sunshine in Jaipur.
It is the sort of scene that Boult pictured last year, when he requested a release from his national contract with New Zealand Cricket (NZC). There would not have been anything stopping him bringing his family to India as a contracted player, but after a decade as an all-format international cricketer, Boult decided it was time to take ownership of his own schedule.
"Flicking through the camera roll on my phone, it's a good feeling, to be honest," Boult says, reflecting on nine months as a freelancer. "When I made that decision, it was [for] two reasons. One, to get to spend more time with my kids and be around the house; and then two, to get the chance to play in some leagues and play a bit of cricket around the world."
Since September 2022, Boult has played a dozen games for New Zealand across formats, five of them at the T20 World Cup in Australia. He has missed home series against India, England and Sri Lanka, and tours to India and Pakistan, instead playing in the Big Bash, for Melbourne Stars, and the ILT20, for MI Emirates, and, after a two-month break, in the IPL for Rajasthan Royals.
"My boys had the chance to come to Dubai. They came to the Big Bash for Christmas - I've always wanted to bring them to India and I've had the chance to do that with Rajasthan [Royals] as well," he says. "It's been cool. It's freed up a lot of time to spend with them."
But it has also put his international career on pause. NZC made clear to Boult that his decision would mean other players - contracted players - were prioritised in selection, and while he retains ambitions in all formats of the game, he has not played a Test match in nearly a year.
In February the unavailability of Kyle Jamieson and Matt Henry left New Zealand scrambling for replacements ahead of the first Test against England in Mount Maunganui. Boult, who lives a short distance from Bay Oval, was the obvious replacement; instead Blair Tickner and Scott Kuggeleijn were drafted in for Test debuts.
"It felt bizarre," he reflects. "It really did. I was hoping that I would get a call-up… Test match cricket was on, a couple of kilometres down the road, and I wasn't part of it. I've played nearly 80 Tests and had some pretty great times in the black cap, but they said that if I chose to move away from that contract, my time in it would be limited.
"And I'm pretty sure they've never had anyone play Test cricket that isn't contracted - so that probably makes it hard as well. But hey, I made that decision. I'm happy with where I'm at, and I've been lucky to experience some cool times over the last couple of months."
It invites an obvious question: has Boult played his last Test match? "Hopefully not, no," he says. "There are some big Tests coming up next year: Australia and South Africa are due to travel to New Zealand. And Test cricket is still my favourite format.
"It is what it is: I've made my decision. I've been lucky enough to have a 13-year career in the black cap, and hey, I've still got a big desire to play in the World Cup as well. We'll see how that unfolds: there's still a bit of movement in the landscape at the moment."
Boult has played in five World Cups across formats and has three runners-up medals to show for his efforts. "We've been agonisingly close to lifting some pretty prestigious silverware," he says. "I remember after the 2019 final, I said to Kane [Williamson] that we've got to be there again, come 2023 in India.
"It's a shame with what's going on with his knee but he'll be working as hard as he can to try and get there. It's snuck up on us, really: it's only a few months away. It's such a great tournament. One hundred percent I've got that desire to be out there.
"We're a great one-day side. We've got some players that have travelled to India and experienced the conditions a lot, and that's what it comes down to in World Cups. You can't buy experience, and you can't replace players that have toured for however many years across these conditions."
If it seems unjust that Boult wishes to pick and choose which series he does and doesn't play, consider this: New Zealand's men played 46 games of international cricket last year, their largest number in a calendar year. In 2023 they have already played 29 and will break that record comfortably.
"I'm trying to cast myself back to eight or nine years ago, when tours seemed to be a month long," he says. "You'd play a couple of Tests and three one-dayers, and that was about it. And I can't remember the last tour I went on that was under almost eight weeks, really. They're too long.
"And if you play all formats, there were years there where I was at home for probably three or four weeks. I was away on the road both touring in New Zealand and internationally for ten months a year. Doing that while raising a family, getting married - all the things that normal people do - just makes it a bit more challenging."
The sport has changed over the last 12 months, with the launch of new leagues in the UAE, South Africa and the United States - all of them featuring several teams backed by IPL franchises - disrupting the status quo. Some players have started to discuss year-round contracts with franchises; international cricket's supremacy is being threatened.
"It's an interesting time for both franchise and international cricket, I reckon," Boult says. "The leagues - there's a lot of movement happening in that space, but the golden question is what it's going to look like in a couple of years. International cricket, I think, is going to suffer in some aspects.
"The worry for the younger cricketer is simply the choice of chasing money and playing less cricket for more money, basically. First of all, you have to be a good enough player to be able to be selected to play in multiple franchise tournaments; and you have to be a pretty good cricketer to have a ten-year international career.
"There's a place for both of them to exist. You need to have an international presence and ability to be able to come and play in an IPL and be able to deliver. And you're only a couple of bad performances away from being pushed out of a franchise as well, so you've got to be careful."
Not that Boult is likely to be "pushed out" by Rajasthan Royals anytime soon. In the long term, it would be no great surprise if he agreed a deal to play for their teams in the Caribbean and South Africa too. "I can't really make those decisions until they are put in front of me, I suppose," he says.
Since Royals signed him ahead of the 2022 season, Boult has led their seam contingent, opening the bowling and being given a clear role: to attack with the new ball, and strike early. He has taken 11 wickets in the first over of an innings in the last two IPLs; the next most by a single bowler is five.
"As soon as I start thinking about it, I don't get any wickets," he says with a grin.
"What I've really enjoyed coming to Rajasthan is being given that role: 'You're here to get us wickets in the powerplay. Go do it.' It's a real freedom to express what I feel I can do.
"I like to swing the ball, I like to pitch it up and get a bit funky with a couple inswingers, a couple outswingers, whatever it is. I'll tell you what I'm just thinking in general really, and that's just: be as accurate as possible. I've always thought that, as a bowler, I've got full control of dictating the play. Nothing can happen until I deliver that ball. And if I deliver a beauty, then it's going to be even harder for him.
"Without giving away too many secrets, I basically try bowling an inswinger every ball. If it swings in, it swings in; if it doesn't, it goes the other way, and everyone thinks I'm trying something else. That's the beauty of being a left-armer. I've had many chats with Wasim Akram, Chaminda Vaas - all the guys I've idolised. You've only got to get one ball to swing, then you're in the batter's head."
One of his first-over wickets this season stands out from the rest. "My kids had just got here," Boult says. "I was on 99 [IPL] wickets, it was about 700 degrees, and I was bowling to probably the best opening pair in the whole tournament." The Chinnaswamy Stadium roared as Royal Challengers Bangalore's openers walked out to bat - then fell silent.
"To put one straight into Virat's knee first ball was pretty cool. I don't really normally give it too much celebration, but I quickly gave it a big turnaround to the family up in the hospitality area. I remember waking up at about 4am that morning, because my kids were jet-lagged.
"I said, 'Come on boys, you need to go to sleep. Daddy's got a big game today. I'm playing against one of the best batters in the world.' My oldest son said, 'Are you going to get him out?' I said, 'Probably not' - and I actually managed to! I couldn't believe it.
"I don't really remember too many of my wickets in terms of who, when and where, but I remember my debut IPL wicket was Mahendra Singh Dhoni and he absolutely melted one to cover in the 17th [20th] over at Chepauk Stadium. The crowd went silent as well, but that wicket there [Kohli's] was probably equal to a silence of a ground that I've ever heard as well."
The adulation that both men - Dhoni and Kohli - receive in India is staggering, but overseas players are also conspicuous compared to back home. Boult can walk down the road in Mount Maunganui without much attention, but in India, he is the centre of attention when he steps outside of the team hotel.
"When the IPL was in a bubble, the best part about it was that you were locked into one area," he says. "It was a lot easier - the logistics were a lot easier - but to have it back around the country playing at different grounds in front of big crowds, it's what the IPL's all about."
But the home-and-away format does have its challenges, particularly when travelling with a young family. Coincidentally, two days before our conversation, we were on a flight from Mumbai to Jaipur together; Boult was asked for selfies and autographs throughout the journey, even when unfolding a pushchair on the tarmac.
"And [carrying] a nappy bag, and everything else!" he interjects. "It can get a bit much. The travel days are pretty tricky with three little boys running around with you, but it just shows the craziness of cricket over in this country; the culture, that everyone follows it, everyone loves it.
"They just want a piece of all cricketers. But no, it's good fun. I've been so lucky: it's probably my ninth year, I reckon, at the IPL...
"I've been bloody lucky to get the opportunities that I have."

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98