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Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Trent Boult: The powerplay hangman

Trent Boult has unleashed his wide repertoire of skills in the back-end of the IPL 2020 for reigning champions Mumbai Indians.

Written by Sandip G | Updated: November 11, 2020 6:34:48 pm
Trent Boult has scalped 22 wickets this IPL 2020 season. (IPL)

Trent Boult was unwell when the Black Caps gathered at his hometown Mount Maunganui for a strength and conditioning camp post lockdown. He was feeling the rust too — after four months cut off from cricket, a period he mostly spent with his newborn daughter, dragging Neil Wagner for golf in the Tauranga Golf Club and composing merry tunes on his guitar. He admittedly gained a couple of pounds too.

Still, he turned up for the Fartlek test — where the cricketers run 100m, 200m, 300m, 400m with a minute’s rest in between. The unrivalled sprint king of the squad, he ended up conceding the top spot to Mitchell Santner in what was a close race, according to conditioning coach Chris Donaldson, an Olympic sprinter himself. For someone who’s been unwell, his was a terrific result, but Boult, who prides himself as the fastest Black Cap, returned to his usual routine of running up and down the Mount to attain peak fitness. He’s not a gym guy, but is maniacal about running, a habit that the old-timers would approve.

It reflects on his physique too — a whippet-type long-distance runner’s body. In physique, he’s more Michael Holding than Mitchell Johnson. It also explains, along with his simple, repeatable action, why he doesn’t get injured as often as fast bowlers with larger constitutions and jerkier actions.

The extra miles paid off, as by the time he embarked to the Emirates he was super fit. And when he’s fully fit, by his own admission, he is unstoppable. “When I am 100 percent fit, I probably can execute whatever I plan to,” he had said in a podcast on NZC.

A power-play hangman he has been for Mumbai Indians. Of his 22 wickets this season, 14 were grabbed inside the first-six overs. And on six instances, he has nabbed a wicket in the very first. He emphasises the need to pick an expert new-ball merchant than stacking the side with death-over specialists.

Few though can match Boult in his wide repertoire of skills. He can swing the ball—so majestically that he’s often typecast as swing bowler—he can seam, he is quick and is deadly accurate. When neither swing nor swing works, he torments batsmen with angles by manipulating the crease and release points. And he has all the tools to prosper across formats—curving in-swinger, disguised bouncer, slower ball, the yorker, the un-hittable full-length ball.

Like he has been at the back-end of the IPL, where assistance off the surface or in the air is negligible. Look how he foxed Prithvi Shaw and Ajinkya Rahane in the space of three balls. The first ball was delivered closer to the stump, it was back of length just outside the off-stump and slanted away. He went a couple of inches wide off the crease for his next ball, which perhaps lulled Shaw into thinking that Boult was about to deliver one of his famous, magical in-swingers. But Boult threw in the wider and fuller delivery, drawing a fatal poke from Shaw.

Rahane, too, was not confounded by wicked deviation, but deceived by the laser-guided perfection of the angle. Pitched on off-stump and just shaded in a bit to strike Rahane’s pads. Wasim Akram was an expert at that, and there is a bit of Akram’s hand behind the delivery too. Last year, when he was struggling for this delivery, he sought Akram’s advice and the Pakistani legend advised him to realign his feet, so that he swivels his hips and runs off the pitch.

These are moments that have match-winning value, even tournament-shaping worth. He does it with an assassin’s stealth. Forget sledging, he doesn’t even stare hard. Last year, in a rare moment of intemperance, he did sledge a Sri Lankan batsman, for which his mother censured him. Afterwards, he promised never to sledge again.

The only time he intimidates his adversaries, his brother Jono had once told this newspaper, is when he plays golf. “He’s everything that he’s not on a cricket field. Grumpy, pestering and angry. Probably, he’s not as good in golf as he’s in cricket,” he’d said, in jest. He offered a solution to add intimidation: “Grow a moustache.”

Whatever the reasons be for under-appreciating him, it’s time his name automatically enters any discussion pertaining to the best all-format fast-bowlers of this era. The body of work is staggering — 267 Test wickets at 27.65, 164 ODI wickets at 25.29, and 126 T20 wickets at 26. Hidden in these are his power-play proficiency, Super Over calmness, condition-transcending craft, and the sheer energy he radiates. He has that ability to laugh at low moments. Like when a reporter asked him about the harrowing World Cup defeat, he replied: “I am just worried about my dog hating me.” His self-deprecating jokes are legendary in the team, and his friend and new-ball partner Tim Southee reckons he is too affable for anyone to hate him. He has made Mumbai’s a happy dressing room too but after the IPL, Boult would be keen to set another record straight — the fastest Black Cap on the planet.

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