New Zealand have had a chaotic build-up to the home series against India. They were shellacked 3-0 on the other side of the Tasman Sea in the Tests and are now without several of their first-choice seamers – including Trent Boult, Lockie Ferguson and Matt Henry – for the five-match T20I series against Virat Kohli’s men.
The margins of defeat in Australia – 296 runs, 247 runs, and 279 runs – were a cause for concern. And the chaos had swelled to a crescendo when senior pro Tim Southee, who was in line to lead New Zealand at the SCG in the absence of the ill Kane Williamson, was asked sit out of the game in order to manage his heavy workload. Southee had delivered nearly 100 overs in the first two Tests and a “fresh” Henry was called into the XI.
Henry Nicholls and Mitchell Santner also fell ill, and from playing a Super Smash T20 game on New Year’s day, wicketkeeper-batsman Glenn Phillips dashed across the ditch to Sydney for a Test debut on January 3. In the absence of Williamson and Southee, Tom Latham stood in as captain, but none of these could change New Zealand’s fortunes.
New year, new format, and Southee has moved on from that Sydney snub. Although Southee said that he hadn’t taken it “personally”, he did concede that it had hurt him and has now set his focus on white-ball cricket.
“They [the team management] make decisions based on what they think is best for the team,” Southee said at a media conference two days off from the first T20I against India. “Obviously, you’re going to agree to disagree and that’s just the nature of sport. It’s disappointing and you’re gutted every time you do miss out, it hurts. It’s a dream to play for New Zealand, but you have to respect the decisions and try and help out and give back to the teams in ways you can even though you’re not playing.
“We had a big chunk of Test cricket, the guys in Australia were reasonably experienced, so I’m sure they’ve had tough tours before and they’ll bounce back and for a long period of time they’ve been able to get through those ups and downs. It’s about making the adjustment. What has gone is gone, and as I said, it was very disappointing and the guys have learnt from it. We’re going to look forward to the Indian series and a big way to finish the home summer.”
Southee played just one ODI against India in the last home summer – largely because he was bowling just straight lines – and later led an inexperienced attack in the T20I series, which New Zealand won 2-1. More recently, Southee had filled in for Williamson as captain and almost led New Zealand to a T20I series victory at home against England – the decider ended in a tie and England won the Super Over.
Williamson is fit and will take back captaincy, but Southee will be in charge of a rather green bowling attack. “It’s different and I enjoy thinking about the game,” Southee said of captaincy. “It makes you think outside of what you want to do. You’re always thinking more than what you are when you’re not [captain]. But I also try to help Kane out as well. Ross is very good, having already captained the side in the past when Kane wasn’t there. It’s a different challenge when you’re sort of the captain but yes it’s something that I’ve enjoyed. Kane has done a great job, so just trying to help him out.”
Southee also reckoned that variations could prove handy on the easy-paced, hit-through-the line tracks in New Zealand. While New Zealand’s attack might not have enough T20I experience, they can fall back on domestic experience in the form of Hamish Bennett and Blair Tickner. Both seamers have excelled in the Super Smash in the past few years and Bennett is now set to make his T20I debut on Friday, having bowled Wellington Firebirds to the domestic T20 title last week. Tickner’s strength is to hit hard lengths at speeds upwards of 140kph, while Bennett, who once was a tearaway, now has a proper offbreak and the knuckle ball in his repertoire.
“Yeah [it’s about variations],” Southee said. “I guess you need to stay a step ahead especially on our grounds here, which are pretty good surfaces and surfaces and small grounds. It’s a great challenge for us bowlers, but it’s been a good hit out today.”