29 Nov 2016

Southee's performance cause for celebration not concern

2:28 pm on 29 November 2016

By Matt Richens* - @mattrichens

Opinion - The worst thing Tim Southee ever did was slay Monty Panesar all around McLean Park.

Eight and a half years ago, Southee, then 19 and on debut, strode to the crease with only Chris Martin left behind him in the pavilion and 224 still needed to grab an impossible test victory against England.

There was nothing to lose, especially when captain Daniel Vettori nicked a Jimmy Anderson ball behind and he was replaced by Martin - the walking wicket.

So Southee went for it, dispatching Panesar five times over the fence while Anderson and Broad went twice each.

New Zealand's Tim Southee hits a four off James Anderson, during the second Test against England at Headingley.

New Zealand's Tim Southee hits a four off James Anderson, during the second Test against England at Headingley. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Southee cleared the ropes nine times - there were only eight other sixes in the match - scored 77 not out off just 40 balls and gave plenty of us a lot of hope that he had the makings of a genuine allrounder.

It was false hope it would seem, but that's no crime.

People are quick to forget the circumstances of that game. The match was over, Southee had nothing to lose and the McLean Park deck was so flat it could easily have substituted for the Napier Airport.

Southee had already taken five wickets in the match and calls that the talented teen was "the next Hadlee" were as quick as they were premature.

By comparison, obviously, Southee has under-delivered with the bat since. Apart from a boundary-laden 156 for Northern Districts and an 83 later that season for his domestic side, he's not done better.

Yet as a public we're constantly upset with his test batting, and, despite batting the same way for the best part of a decade, he's consistently maligned by commentators. Over-analyst Jeremy Coney and offsider Malcolm Jordan this week demanded he should feel embarrassed for how he batted in the first innings of the second New Zealand-Pakistan test, in Hamilton.

Coney argued that because Southee wasn't brave enough to "bat properly" and just swung at the ball, he had no regard for the team or the game itself.

Cricket isn't about how, it's how many and Southee's 29 was more than four of the batsmen above him scored in the first innings. As far as averages go, Southee's 16.86 isn't high, but it's higher than plenty of players who weren't as picked on as Southee.

Team-mates congratulate Tim Southee after the dismissal of Ajantha Mendis during play on day 4 of the 1st cricket test match between New Zealand Black Caps and Sri Lanka at University Oval, Dunedin. Sunday 13 December 2015. Copyright photo: Andrew Cornaga / www.photosport.nz

Team-mates congratulate Tim Southee after the dismissal of Ajantha Mendis Photo: Photosport

The Black Caps don't suffer fools now. There is a strong team-first ethos and if you threaten that, you're on the outer or gone.

Players have been dropped and/or privately told to buck up their ideas or they would not play for New Zealand again.

Jesse Ryder has been all but banished under this regime while cowboys and selfish renegades are simply not tolerated.

So if Southee's batting wasn't exactly what the team wanted, he would be dumped or at least sent down the order to No. 11.

But coach Mike Hesson and co know what they're getting and they're happy enough.

His technique and style, though far from the very proper Coney or the dour way tailenders of his time were meant to bat, doesn't worry the team or its management so why should it worry the public?

His highlight reel approach at No. 9 is obviously not going to work all the time, but when it does, a quickfire 30 can make a big change to the game. Southee's defence isn't good enough to bat two hours and noodle 30, so why not swing and get it in 20 minutes. Same result.

With the pitches in New Zealand becoming greener each year, players without a rock-solid defence know there's a ball coming with their name on it and it's only a matter of time before they're out.

Southee is fifth on the all time New Zealand test wicket taking list and, barring serious injury, will pass Chris Cairns and Martin leaving him behind only Daniel Vettori and Hadlee.

He already takes wickets, catches as well as any bowler in the world and chips in every now and then with that bat, is that not enough?

Or are we still as caught up about that day in Napier more than eight years ago as poor Monty Panesar probably is.

For the record

  • Southee's test average (16.86) is higher than plenty of handy bowlers, not all of whom were stuck at No. 11, including:
  • New Zealand - Lance Cairns, Simon Doull, Kyle Mills, Shane Bond, Gavin Larsen, Martin Sneddon as well as a number of test openers.
  • Internationally - Curtly Ambrose, Rangana Herath, Dale Steyn, Waqar Younis, Dennis Lillee and Zaheer Khan, Peter Siddle, Craig McDermott and Muttiah Muralitharan.

* Matt Richens has been a sports journalist for 10 years.

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