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Feature

Tim Southee has a date with the World Cup

He was really good in 2011. He was awesome in 2015. He was ignored in 2019 but he is more than ready for 2023

Tim Southee has his hoodie on, New Zealand vs Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, Wellington, 1st day, March 17, 2023

Tim Southee: I do love playing for New Zealand and I've wanted to since I was a kid  •  Getty Images

Tim Southee's career arc could very well be represented by the ODI World Cups he's been part of over the years.
At 22, he made an impression in his first-ever ODI World Cup by taking 18 wickets in eight innings and finished as New Zealand's best bowler in the semi-final they lost to Sri Lanka in 2011 in India. In 2015, he blew teams away in swinging conditions at home (remember that performance in Wellington) before having a rare bad day on the field in the final against Australia in Melbourne. Four years later, a dip in white-ball form meant he was part of just one match in the 2019 World Cup following which he was also no longer a regular in New Zealand's ODI side.
In the lead-up to the 2023 tournament, Southee has shown he still has the stomach for a fight. Three heartbreaks later, he will be back in India, where it all started for him 12 years ago, not just as a seasoned campaigner but also having added new dimensions to his bowling.
Outswing had been the main tool of his trade but he had other tricks too. In the early years of his career, his ability to generate reverse-swing kept him in the game long after the ball lost its shine. Over the years, he went through periods of inconsistency, and with the threat of both traditional and reverse-swing diminishing in limited-overs cricket, Southee had to find other ways to stay relevant.
He did that by working on using the crease and developing subtle variations. He produced one of his finest performances across formats in the Kanpur Test in 2021, which was testament to the work he'd been putting in. He also developed the inswinger with the Dukes ball during tours to England, and has also added the knuckle ball, the legcutter and the three-quarter seam ball to his repertoire. In a recent visit to the subcontinent, the ODIs against Pakistan in January this year, he relied on his slower balls and cutters to restrict batters and take wickets.
"I think as an international player you have to keep evolving your game if you want to keep playing this level," Southee said on the sidelines of an event in Mumbai last week. "For me, I've been playing international cricket for a while and one of the things I've tried to do is staying with the times and trying to improve my game. Especially in white-ball cricket, I try and keep things reasonably simple. And that's whether it's through different variations that you can muster or other variations of kinds. I think that's just been a been a big part. It's actually just wanting to keep trying to get better and keep trying to improve."
This will be Southee's seventh international visit to India and he also brings with him over ten years of IPL experience. In the 2016 T20 World Cup, the last ICC tournament which was hosted by India, Southee did not play a single game with New Zealand preferring hit-the-deck style fast bowlers. In the UK in 2019, he watched most of the games from the sidelines owing to injury and average form. But this time around, he will return as a much-improved bowler, having shown what he's capable of in Asian conditions in the last few years.
This August, Southee captained New Zealand's T20I side against UAE in Dubai, where he picked up six wickets in three matches to become the joint-highest wicket-taker in T20Is alongside Shakib Al Hasan. He bagged a five-for in the first T20I to bail New Zealand out, taking two wickets upfront with the new ball and then reaping the rewards of bowling cutters into the pitch to finish off the tail.
He even played a match in the men's Hundred for London Spirit upon landing in the UK ahead of the limited-overs series against England. He finished with 3 for 23 against Birmingham Phoenix, first finding Will Smeed's edge with a swinging delivery and then returning to bounce out Moeen Ali and Ben Duckett.
Ahead of this World Cup, with six ODIs against England and Bangladesh to go, he has picked up 20 wickets from his last 11 matches and has gone wicketless in only one game. His leadership experience - he is New Zealand's full-time Test captain - will be an added bonus to in the likely absence of Kane Williamson.
"I was very fortunate to play in the World Cup here in 2011," Southee said. "It was a great experience to be a part of it and I guess every time you've come to these parts of the world, the guys from New Zealand that were involved in the IPL earlier in the year would have gained as much knowledge as they can about the grounds and the surfaces that we'll be playing on. It's a different format, but I guess it's just you rely on previous experiences that you've had in these parts of the world. I think for us in New Zealand, being such a small country, to represent our country is a great honour. I think any time there is a world event, it's still a massive occasion that the guys look forward to."
New Zealand's series against England, their second-last assignment before the World Cup in India, will also reunite Southee with Trent Boult, who returns to the ODI fold after 11 months. The prolific fast-bowling duo also belongs to the U-19 World Cup class of 2007-08 - where Southee finished as Player of the Tournament ahead of the likes of Virat Kohli, Ravindra Jadeja, Steven Smith, Wayne Parnell and many others who will be part of the upcoming men's World Cup.
Southee and Boult have appeared together 169 times across formats for New Zealand, picking up a total of 852 wickets, which is about 48% of the total wickets taken by New Zealand bowlers in that time. Rising through the ranks from age groups to playing domestic cricket together and going on to become two of the best players the country has produced, Southee and Boult have had similar career arcs - until recently when Boult gave up his central contract and became a T20 freelancer.
Southee does not see himself going down that road anytime soon, at least, but is looking forward to the reunion with Boult.
"We did some training together before we left New Zealand," Southee said. "He's excited to be back playing for New Zealand and he's a massive part of the one-day team. I think he's one of the best one-day bowlers going around in the world. For us to have him back, it'll be great. He was part of the 2015 and 2019 World Cup tournaments in which we made the final. He was a big part of that. I'm sure he'll be a big part of the side in this this World Cup as well."
"I've been fortunate to play a lot of cricket in the IPL and I've loved every moment of it and every other league I've played has been enjoyable as well. I do love playing for New Zealand and I've wanted to since I was a kid. For now, it's about what cricket's in front, the series against England and the World Cup is at the forefront of my mind at the moment."
Though New Zealand have a plethora of fast-bowling options at their disposal for the World Cup, with Lockie Ferguson and Kyle Jamieson returning from injuries and with Matt Henry in terrific white-ball form, having just topped the wickets chart in the T20 Blast, it will be hard for them to ignore this version of Southee.

Sruthi Ravindranath is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo