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Trent Boult: 'Reverse swing is a string I want to add to my bow'

The New Zealand quick on being a gun powerplay bowler in the IPL, adjusting to bubble life, and switching plans up in Tests

Man of the Match in the recent IPL final, Trent Boult played a pivotal role with the new ball to help the Mumbai Indians win their fifth title. After getting back to New Zealand from the UAE, he spoke about playing the final with a niggle, what makes the Mumbai franchise click, getting used to bubble life, and what he tries to do in Test matches when the ball isn't swinging much.
Let's start with the first ball of the IPL final. You're known for pitching it up and swinging it, but this one was short of a length and you surprised Marcus Stoinis with the bounce to dismiss him for a duck. Was that planned or something you came up with on the spot?
You probably dream about starting a spell like that or starting a grand final like that. It was just one of those things that seemed to happen. Yup, I like to pitch the ball up and use the swing as quickly as I can. That was a little bit shorter accidentally but it was nice to get that result.
And you were coming into the game with a groin niggle. Did that affect your confidence or were you thinking of bowling those important overs in the powerplay and pushing the Delhi Capitals on to the back foot?
Yeah, I faced a bit of a niggle in the first semi-final [Qualifier 1] and it's a tricky thing. Any aches and pains or any niggles, they're at the back of your head, but I passed the fitness day the day before [the final], had some confidence going into that game, and of course, I wanted to be a part of such a big occasion. So it was a big trip over there, a long time, a lot of cricket was played, but it was brilliant to lift that trophy at the end of the tournament.
You took 16 of your 25 wickets in the powerplay overs, a joint IPL record with Mitchell Johnson, who also did it for the Mumbai Indians in 2013. What was your plan when you landed in the UAE? You knew the pitches were probably not going to help your style of bowling, so what kind of preparation did you put in?
I've played a little bit of cricket in the UAE. To be honest, the conditions I've faced there have been different every time, from Test cricket to one-day cricket. It was very hot at the start of the tournament and the wickets played quite well, I thought, and there's a bit of humidity at night. Then the wickets got a little bit slower and the ball seemed to swing around a little bit more.
Just like touring anywhere in the world, the biggest challenge is the conditions and trying to work out a game plan that works best in those conditions. I really enjoyed my time with Mumbai. I felt like I was pretty clear about my role. Obviously, it was to start up, bowl the first couple of overs and try and get a couple of wickets. Some games were better than others, but that's how it goes in that format.
"Having experienced three and a half months away from my young family, it's a big sacrifice to just leave for a quarter of the year, and looking at tours next year, there's potential to be away for nine to ten months"
Everyone seemed to expect slow wickets in the UAE, and to think they would deteriorate towards the end of the league. So those pitches must have surprised you with the kind of help they provided fast bowlers throughout?
Yeah, I think the variation across the three grounds there… day games were definitely a lot different than the night games; a lot of dew came into play, and then the ball seemed to skid on in that second innings. Once again, being able to adjust to those conditions was definitely the most important part. And we were backed by a side with a very experienced bowling attack, and then obviously a very quality batting line-up as well.
Everyone talks about your Test-match bowling more, but in this IPL you were one of the most impressive bowlers. Did you have to change your normal bowling plans by a lot for the tournament?
Test cricket is no doubt my favourite format; I definitely enjoy getting in the whites and getting the red ball in my hand. If you really want to [analyse] my performance in this IPL, it was probably similar to what I do in a Test match anyway - bowling the hard length and getting to swing it around with the new ball. It's a challenging format: you can bring whatever game plan you want, you've got to be clear on what you're trying to do and you've got to execute that pretty nicely. Because in a tournament like the IPL, you see the teams we're coming up against, the players, the batters, you've got to be right on the mark. It was some good players, but that's the best thing about it, really, to challenge yourself against the Warners, the Pollards, the Rohits, so it was good fun.
Playing for MI for the first time, you and James Pattinson had very well-defined roles in the powerplay, which allowed Jasprit Bumrah to bowl more at the death. Rohit Sharma said at one of the presentations that he and the management had a conversation with you and Pattinson about the MI culture and what they needed out of you. Could you tell us about that?
You go through your meetings and your planning for each opposition. To have that kind of diversity across that attack… You've got three very good spinners - Jayant Yadav, Rahul Chahar and KP [Krunal Pandya] - great craft bowlers through the middle overs, who can bowl with the new ball. To get the chance to bowl with James - [he's a] quality new-ball bowler as well, hits the wicket hard, and then you actually sometimes forget that you've got Bumrah in your attack until he grabs that ball in the last ten overs. I've played a little bit with him over the years. He's a phenomenal bowler, the way he goes out there, keeps it nice and simple and bowls straight on the spots.
What is it about the MI culture that gets the best out of the players? Quinton de Kock has scored so much for two seasons in a row, and you have been their gun powerplay bowler this year.
Like I've been saying, they're very well planned: they forecast what kind of players will have what sort of impact in what conditions. I've worked with Shane Bond a lot, so that relationship probably helps as well.
Comparing it to other franchises, I suppose just having the opportunity to play a lot of the games back-to-back gave a bit of rhythm. That certainly helps. Having that tournament out of India, in conditions where you're not going to the airport every day and on buses and all sorts of stuff like that, we just got into a nice rhythm and all the guys were playing well and they continued to play well across the ten weeks. It's a hard thing to pinpoint, but definitely those couple of things have done big favours for that franchise.
You've obviously worked with Shane Bond in the New Zealand set-up, but did you see a different version of him here?
I've always said that Bond is an extremely good tactical coach. He comes up with good game plans and definitely puts in a lot of hours in terms of looking at where guys hit the ball and where their strong zones are and potential places to exploit weaknesses. Obviously to have a familiar face there, someone I've known for many years, definitely calmed me down a little bit and gave me a lot of confidence. He was brilliant and I'm here in quarantine at the moment in New Zealand, getting the chance to work with him in the nets as we prepare for the West Indies series. So it's a good relationship.
You also had Zaheer Khan in the coaching staff, a different bowler compared to Bond, which must have reflected in his coaching too. He's also a fellow left-arm quick. What kind of advice did he offer?
I don't know Zaheer too well, but he was brilliant - a left-armer a lot of guys looked up to over the years. I imitated his action a couple of times, which got a couple of giggles out of him. He's very experienced, played a lot of cricket, T20 cricket as well, and it was nice to hear his way of doing things or how he used to do things back in the day.
Great support staff there and Mahela [Jayawardene] led the team pretty nicely, he was pretty passionate. It was a good couple of months away and I built some pretty good friendships.
Before the T20I series against England in November 2019, you said "being aggressive" was your T20 game plan. How do you define aggression in T20 cricket?
I think you're trying to be aggressive in terms of trying to take wickets and pitching the ball up and taking a few risks every now and then. Everyone understands how big of an impact getting early wickets inside the powerplay makes, whether they're chasing or trying to set a total. It's a tough format, it's a hard one to read too much into. You can bowl one way in a certain match and get 3 for 20 and bowl with the same game plan a couple of days later and you get none for 47. I try not to look into it too much, but I'm very clear on what a game's wicket looks like to me. It was nice to grab a few in the UAE and make a bit of an impact.
How much of that "being aggressive" mentality has got to do with Brendon McCullum's captaincy in the 2015 World Cup, when you were bowling with a Test match kind of field. Has that mentality carried on for you and other New Zealand bowlers as well?
I think so. It was a big continuum point for white-ball cricket in New Zealand, I reckon. Back in 2015, to be running in in ODI cricket with four slips and no third man was probably not the norm. The facilities and the conditions you are in, the way the ball swings around, if it swings around a little or doesn't at all, it kind of justifies that. Brendon was brilliant at instilling confidence in you and really backed you. I don't know if that's the new norm or anything like that but definitely good fun to see with the white ball swinging around and see the bat miss the edge and knock over a few stumps.
"In the IPL you've got to be right on the mark. That's the best thing about it, really - to challenge yourself against the Warners, the Pollards, the Rohits"
You once said you get "quite nervous" when New Zealand are bowling first in a Test match. Does it happen even when you're bowling at home or, say, in England where you know the ball is going to swing?
At any point, I really get nervous the first morning of a Test match - [there are] a few butterflies when you're not sure what's going to happen, whether you bat or bowl, when you have a red ball in your hand on a nice, green wicket. Obviously you want to be straight on the mark. Test cricket is one of those things - there's a lot of pressure on you, but as a bowler you want to set that tone and get the team off to a good start. A lot of work goes into preparing for a Test match, and it's kind of a week-long event so that's probably when I get the butterflies in the stomach, but I love it, it's a great feeling.
What are usually your plans B and C when you're bowling in conditions that aren't helping you? It could be in Asia or even at the Basin Reserve (Wellington) where the pitch becomes so much better for batting if you're bowling second on the second or third day.
It's one of the big challenges, having other plans up your sleeve when the ball doesn't swing. Wickets can be pretty good in New Zealand - they kind of get better to bat on as the Test goes on rather than deteriorate or anything like that or like a subcontinental pitch where it turns and gets a little bit low. Reverse swing isn't really a big thing in New Zealand, but it's a string I want to really add to my bow and be able to do it in overseas conditions. I suppose the luxury of being a left-armer is, I can get funky with angles, coming around the wicket and using shorter balls and look at the bowling attack you're bowling with. Myself, Timmy [Tim Southee] and Wags [Neil Wagner] have been doing that for a wee while now and a lot of credit goes to the way we pass the ball around between each other.
Do you ever get tempted to use more variations in Tests in such situations because you've played so many ODIs and T20s now, or do you like to stick to the Test match kind of line and length and focus on accuracy?
I think you're just trying to be as accurate as you can and not give too many loose balls and boundary balls to players. I don't see too much room for knuckleballs and offcutters and stuff like that in Test matches. I think the biggest thing is bowling as a pack and sticking to keeping that pressure on and not letting them get too far ahead of the game.
You and Southee support each other very well. What kind of conversations do you have - in any format - when the opposition openers are scoring freely and your plans aren't quite working?
I think naturally you're backing each other to be accurate, to be able to think on your feet. I suppose that comes with playing a lot of cricket - you offer a lot of experience, and Timmy is an incredibly experienced bowler. He's been doing this for a long time. You've just got to keep it simple, in my opinion, and force the batters to play a good shot off a good ball. If you're putting the ball where you want to put it, and if they're playing good shots taking high risks, then sometimes at the end of the day that's all you can really do. I don't like to overcomplicate it too much and I've only got three or four balls that I can bowl - it might be a hard length, a bouncer, a yorker and a slower ball. It's just about choosing which is the right one at what stage of the match, and keeping it nice and simple.
How do you plan for a batsman like Steven Smith in Tests, especially in Australia, where the ball is not swinging? He hits the ball to square leg even from outside the off stump.
I'd probably give the ball to Waggy [Wagner] pretty quickly and watch him bowl (laughs). He's obviously quite an unorthodox kind of player, hits the ball into funky areas, and he's another guy that you give him a couple of boundaries and let him get off to a good start and he finds a good rhythm and he's very hard to get out. Once again, it's about adjusting to what's in front of you - whether it's a slow wicket or the ball is swinging or not, it's kind of going to dictate your plans in a way. They've got some big players, the Australians, we had a tough lesson over there just recently with a Test series. It's a big learning curve, so look forward to that next occasion when it's coming up.
Do you try to swing the ball into him as much as you do against other right-handers?
Yeah, I probably just figure out the best way to contain him, whether that's bowling straight to him with straight fields... but the guy is very, very quality. He's very strong off his pads and as soon as you overpitch, he can hit you straight down the ground, and if you bowl too short he can hit you through square leg. You've got to be nice and clear [with your plans] but it's definitely a good challenge.
Players are also getting used to the bubble life now. Many players have already spoken about the kind of mental toll it could take in the long run. Do you also think it's going to force players to pick and choose certain series to spend more time with their families?
I think it's going to be a tough one to forecast. Having experienced three and a half months away from my young family - I have two young boys and a wife back home whom I haven't seen - you can imagine it's a big sacrifice to just pack up and leave for a quarter of the year, and looking at tours next year, there's potential to be away for nine to ten months. I can't speak for everyone, but it's definitely going to play a big role in the game. Having to come back to New Zealand, you have to spend two weeks in a hotel before you can even be let out. It's crazy what the world is facing at the moment, it's almost surreal, and it's going to be a hard one to say what guys are feeling and what they're able to do. Speaking from playing in the IPL, it's brilliant to be back out on the field and offer something for everyone to watch and it was closely followed all around the world. That's the beauty of cricket, it brings everyone together, so I'm hoping it's back to normal pretty soon.
You have the Test series coming up against West Indies who also have a formidable bowling attack, with Jason Holder, Alzarri Joseph, Shannon Gabriel, Kemar Roach. Put together, they have everything - pace, swing, seam movement, bounce. Do you think it's going to be one of the tougher challenges for New Zealand?
[It's] always exciting playing the West Indies, they show a lot of character. They bring a lot of history with them, a lot of pride, and they'll be here to put in a good performance. We'll look forward to that, and then we move forward to the Pakistan series. Same thing again, some quality bowlers there. I'm sure it's going to be exciting. [I'm] already getting nervous about batting - probably shouldn't say that! - but it's going to be good fun. It'll be nice for the New Zealand public to watch some good cricket and to see some good, international cricket on our screens.
Will New Zealand's batting be the key because the bowling attacks of all three teams - New Zealand, West Indies and Pakistan - are really strong?
I think we're going to have to bat extremely well. Probably the biggest confidence booster is that we played some pretty good cricket in New Zealand in the past wee while. We're very clear with how the conditions react. I know the batsmen here are looking forward to a big challenge and a big home summer and hopefully we can continue that form that we've had over here, and play some good cricket and keep moving towards that World Test Championship pinnacle.

Vishal Dikshit is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo