Under the SKanner: Trent Boult
Since the advent of T20 cricket, batting in ODIs seems to have gone to the next level. With flatter pitches as well as shorter boundaries facilitating relentless hitting, the 50-over format has been permeated by dynamic and aggressive batsmen capable of catering to the changing dynamics of the vast majority of modern-day fans.
Even though the International Cricket Council (ICC) have made a positive start by declaring restrictions on rapidly burgeoning bat sizes, the balance between bat and ball has shifted greatly towards the former. However, amidst all the carnage, there are still a few world-class bowlers who have continued to prosper despite the circumstances suggesting otherwise. New Zealand's Trent Boult is one such high-quality pacer. From 51 matches thus far, he has picked up 90 wickets at an average of 25.48 with two five-wicket hauls.
In the official ICC player rankings for ODI bowlers, only four pacers are currently rated better than Boult who occupies the sixth position, with 665 rating points. For the better part of 2016, the left-armer was perched on top of the rankings. Due to New Zealand's paucity of games in recent times, the 28-year-old has not been able to retain his status as numero uno.
With the Kiwis currently preparing for a 3-match ODI series against India starting on the 22nd at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai, the setting provides a perfect opportunity to dissect Boult's strengths and weaknesses in the 50-over format. Having shown his white-ball prowess by picking up five wickets for just 38 runs in the recently concluded warm-up game against a strong Indian Board President's XI, the left-armer has certainly propelled himself as one of the key players to watch out for during the upcoming ODI series.
Capable of generating sharp movement
The foremost requirement for any top-level fast bowler is the ability to make early breakthroughs with the new-ball. Considering the fact that most of the international teams play their best batsmen at the top of the order to maximise on scoring opportunities, wickets inside the first ten overs can go a long way in restricting even power-packed lineups to manageable totals.
Armed with the natural angle of the left-armer, Boult's capacity to swing the new ball both ways makes him an asset to the New Zealand bowling attack. The pacer is extremely fit and at the peak of his powers. Hence, he is capable of clocking high speeds during the start of the innings. While his in-swinger is a thing of beauty in itself, the southpaw can also trouble right-handers by moving the ball away. His propensity to generate late and sharp movement keeps opposition batsmen on their toes. After all, the peach of a delivery can arrive at any instant.
Possesses the tactical nous of setting up a batsman
The art of setting up a batsman by probing ruthlessly in the corridor of uncertainty appears to be diminishing with each and every season. In such regard, Boult is among the very few existing fast bowlers who have the tactical nous to procure wickets through sheer intellect. Time and again, the left-armer has given an apt demonstration of his perceptive brain in an era designed to evince run-fests.
Although comparisons with the legendary Wasim Akram may seem a bit premature and far-fetched at the moment, Boult is one of the rare present-day seamers who follows the iconic Pakistani's style of operation. The Kiwi can utilise the crease smartly and confound even well-set batsmen by playing around with the angles. Not one to fall into the stereotyped template of bouncer-followed-by-yorker, he lures his prey into well-defined traps emanating from subtle variations in length as well as pace.
Retreats into his shell upon being attacked
The common thread connecting almost every legendary fast bowler in the illustrious history of the game can be discerned from their unwavering response to aggression. Even when the batsmen assume control of the proceedings by going on the rampage, most great pacers prefer to fight fire with fire. Of course, there are exceptions to this norm. But if Boult wants to leave behind an indelible legacy, he has to overcome his tendency to go on the defensive when versatile batsmen take the attack to him.
During the 2017 edition of the Champions Trophy, Boult could be seen retreating into his shell when the likes of Shakib Al Hasan and Jos Buttler were coming after him. Admittedly, the surfaces, as well as the game situation, did not favour the bowler. But the seamer could have persisted with his naturally attacking approach in order to help his team wrest the momentum back.
Skipper Kane Williamson comes across as the type of captain who encourages his bowlers to be pro-active. Boult's strength lies in picking up wickets at vital moments. By abandoning his robust skill-set at the first instance of hostility from offensively-oriented batsmen, he inadvertently plays into the opposition's hands.
Appears flat when the ball goes soft
As with most other fast bowlers, Boult can quickly run out of ideas once the ball goes soft. This particular weakness prevented him from taking the Champions Trophy by storm. Since the docile pitches on offer as well as the fickle weather did not provide proper conditions for seam bowling, he failed to obtain any semblance of swing. Consequently, his bowling did not have its usual dose of venom and the opposition batsmen duly capitalised.
With the seam of the white-ball getting less pronounced as the overs go by, the left-armer needs to derive innovative ideas to sustain his menace in the current fabric of ODI cricket. Despite being supremely fit, Boult does drop his pace as the game progresses. Factoring into account the cut-throat nature of the 50-over format, it becomes imperative for any seamer to maintain substantial speeds even during the latter spells. If he can somehow sort out this issue, the New Zealand fast bowler can dominate the world arena in the coming years.