When the Boult brothers, Jono and Trent, burst into teenage years, their mother Wendy decided to enrol them at a local golf course. She had had enough of them breaking windows and leaping over neighbours walls playing cricket. Tauranga Golf Club, around five kilometres from their old home in Matapihi, was the place.
For unlike most other clubs, it was not the preserve of the elite, junior membership was easily procurable and they provided the equipment.
There, though, was one stipulation she was unaware of — the dress code of collared shirts and trousers. So denied entry, the mother rushed the kids to a nearby store, for it was the final day of admission, brought them a pair of shirts and managed to get them enrolled. But little did she know that she had sown the seeds of a new addiction. Or that the old one, cricket, would refuse to die.
So passionate are the brothers about golf that Jono admits that it’s the only place where they compete and argue among themselves.
“In cricket, we never had fights over who was better. I knew my limitations, I knew Trent was damn good from a young age. But on the golf course, we are intense rivals, ready to even hit each other,” says Jono, an off-spinning all-rounder who has represented Northern Districts in 12 first-class games and still turns up for the Cadets Club when he’s not designing tiles at Christies Floorings.
A golf kit is always lying in his car, just as his brother carries one wherever he tours. Trent has swung his clubs around the cricketing globe – in England with Eoin Morgan and Jos Buttler, on the famous Yas Links course in Abu Dhabi, and the one he cherishes the most, on a dusty course in Dhaka.
“The course was situated in what seemed to be the centre of this massive city. We had our own caddy, who had only about three words of English, and there were ball boys who would miraculously appear beside your ball down every fairway,” Trent had once narrated his experience in a podcast with a local radio station.
He says the sport relaxes him from the relentless churn of international cricket and its packed calendar. But Wayne Ashworth, the secretary of the Tauranga Golf Club, differs. “He might claim he plays golf for relaxation. But I can tell, he’s damn serious about it. In cricket, he’s always cheerful and relaxed. But here, he’s very intense and even loses his cool. Yeah, but he enjoys it a lot,” he says.
Trent’s insatiable quest to improve straddles both spheres, golf and cricket.
“He’s very studious, analysing his game, picking tips from old hands, learning new stuff. It’s the same he’s when playing cricket. And each time, I see him, he has only gotten better. He’s not like most other celebrity sportsmen who play golf for fun. He’s damn serious about it.”
So whenever he’s in town, Trent invariably hits the golf course.
Now he needn’t fish out a fresh reason to frequent the place either, for he has bought a new house on the premises of the course. It’s easy to guess why he pinned down on the specific locality and relocated from a more rustic to a touristy suburb.
“Oh, you couldn’t keep him off the course,” says Ashworth.
Boult describes himself as a “ripper, who gives the ball a thunderous whack.” Sometimes like his batting, when he starts merrily swinging around. “True, he does give a lot of power into his shots and has a fair bit of accuracy. But he struggles with his chipping. Putting is quite alright.”
In the last few years, he has improved his handicap. But Jono says: “I’m clearly better at golf, and I often beat him”. And then as an afterthought, he emphatically adds: “Well, I beat him in everything but bowling.”
Even Trent’s bowling, Jono cheekily asserts, is the offshoot of his passion for batting. “Obviously, the more you bowl, the better you become. He became such a good bowler because I seldom gave him the bat. So he would keep on bowling, and I being a very good batsman, he had to sweat a lot to get my wicket,” he says, laughing.
But on a serious note, he says: “I had no doubt that he would be a fantastic bowler. Probably, I never thought he would reach the level he has, but he was a seriously talented bowler. And frankly, the only thing I taught him is his cheeky humour. I am a bigger cheek than him,” he says.
There are several instances of Trent’s effervescent humour. Sample this: During an interview with a local channel in England during the World Cup, he was asked about the overwhelming support his team was getting. He replied: ‘It’s been exciting so far in this tournament seeing the great crowds and it’s been awesome seeing some Kiwi flags and Kiwi birds floating around in the stands.” Then with a pause, he slipped in the cheek: “By birds I mean actual birds, not the women.”
Their cricket, as bromance narratives go, began in the backyard. And at times, the contests got animated too. “Usually peaceful, but sometimes we would argue over whether it was out or not, sometimes we would throw a few punches here and there. The boys from the neighbourhood too would join us and we would play until dark, putting the streetlights on sometimes.”
Not just cricket, they played most sports except rugby. “We were never big or brave enough to want to have a dip at that. Anything with a round ball we were after. And surfing – anything to do with water. We loved our fishing growing up there. It was part and parcel of the Bay of Plenty lifestyle.”
But they couldn’t have been more different in builds. Jono was short and stocky; Trent was lanky and slight. “So we were always the guys who got beaten up and we were the ones who were scared of the bigger boys and not the ones who were beating other kids up.” But they used to settle the scores in the actual game.
Recreational backyard cricket soon assumed a serious tenor and the Boult brother began nursing bigger ambitions. But their school team in Otumoetai was not quite renowned for cricket, so they dropped in at the now-defunct Bay of Oval Academy run by the late John Howell, whose son Llorne went on to represent New Zealand in the 1990s.
John, a fast bowler at the first-class level and known as the man who made Tauranga a cricketing hub, was mighty impressed by the 16-year-old left-arm seamer he was watching.
He had most things naturally allied — nice wrist, fluent release and a simple action. “Trent one day came to the academy and bowled. Staggering for someone who never had any formal coaching — all he did was bowling to his brother and gulping footages of his idol Wasim Akram. My father was like ‘this guy’s gotta the skill’. But maybe we don’t know the mind, they might lose it in the mind, get into drinking problems and chasing women,” remembers Llorne.
After picking 459 international wickets and still counting — Trent has his eyes set on Richard Hadlee’s mark of 431 Test scalps, but probably thinks he won’t — Llorne would probably say Trent had the mental part sorted out. Not perhaps with the natural ease of Kane Williamson, but with his doggedness. “He is persistent, extremely hardworking. He comes across as funny, but underneath he works really hard. Does the right things. Trains hard. A lot of people have talent. But you watch this kid to see if he can do this. And Trent had this. He works really hard,” adds Llorne.
His bowling progressed seamlessly, before one day a disenchanted Trent came to John. He was bemused why he wasn’t picked in the U-17 Tauranga team. He said he wanted to quit. John reassured him and worked out the logic behind his omission. “At Tauranga, there’s a big cricket school called the Tauranga Boys School. So in the U-17 boys’ team, they were 12 boys from the school. But Trent was from Otumoetai. That perhaps worked against him. But my father consoled him saying he has a lot of skills and should be in the game. Then he called some people and literally gave him the game. My dad used to tell me, ‘the chap is very good, he’s got to kick on’.”
A club match then convinced Llorne of his potential. “I don’t remember the exact figures, it was 5/7 or 7/5 but he ran through the side the same way as he does these days. In-swingers and yorkers,” Later, as Llorne’s international cricket winded down after a shoulder injury, the bond grew stronger. “When we went to nearby towns for cricket matches, I was always the driver and they would sit right behind me, away from most of the kids, who would be drinking.”
His inclusion in the U-19 national team was also incidental. “A national selection tournament was going on and I was playing the U-19 leg. So Trent had come to Lincoln University and was bowling at me and another boy came and asked him whether he was playing in the U-15s. So Trent said he was Under-17, and he was like ‘why is he not in the team?’ Then he was picked for the U-19 team that toured India. I remember he hit a six off the last ball to win a match,” recollects Jono.
Though he does make fun of his brother’s batting, he asserts: “He’s a decent batsman. Has scored three hundreds for the Cadets.” However, a Test average of 14 doesn’t quite reflect his brother’s overwhelming confidence. But Jono’s only concern was his brother’s lithe built. It seemed logical when he broke down with a stress fracture during his debut in an ODI against Australia in 2011. “But after that he has worked so hard that he has been relatively injury-free for a fast bowler. I think the next big injury was the recent one (fractured right arm after copping a blow from Mitchell Starc),” he points out. Jono, though, refuses to take any credit for Trent’s fitness.
Trent has a superstition, but a progressive one. Before every series, he sprints from the leafy base to the craggy summit of the imposing Mount Maunganui, like it’s a ritual, a 232-metre steep climb.
His all-time best is 12 minutes and 18 seconds, almost six minutes better than the fastest sprinter in the annual sprint fare. Walking it would roughly take 40 minutes one side. But Trent is unhappy — he claims he used to time better when he was younger.
It’s this drive that made Trent the bowler he is. Or as Jono says, cheekily, the difference between the Boult brothers.
The one that made it big, and the one that slunk into the background. But each content in their own worlds. Their backyard cricket rivalry has ended long time ago, as their mother had wished, though the golfing one continues.
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