New Zealand’s swing king carries Black Caps to CWC final

Trent Boult gathers and delivers in a fluid motion, releasing gorgeous swingers and spitting seamers that belie the tranquility that came before.

FILE: New Zealand's Trent Boult celebrates after taking a wicket against Scotland in the ICC Cricket World Cup ODI Test match on 17 February 2015. Picture: CWC website.

MANCHESTER - Trent Boult moves like liquid as he runs towards the wicket. ‘Runs’ is not the right verb. Rather, he cascades like water in a babbling brook, gently moving across the turf as if unimpeded by the confines of a solid form.

His action is magnificent. Simultaneously the product of a textbook’s instruction and the flourishes of an artist’s brushstrokes. He gathers and delivers in a fluid motion, releasing gorgeous swingers and spitting seamers that belie the tranquility that came before.

He entered the World Cup as the number two ranked bowler in 50 over cricket according to the ICC’s metrics. But over the course of the last six weeks, rival fast bowlers consigned the 29-year-old Kiwi to the fringes.

Australia’s Mitchell Starc, India’s Jasprit Bumrah, Pakistan’s Mohammad Amir, England’s Jofra Archer and even his countryman Lockie Ferguson have taken more wickets by unleashing balls at a much greater speed. The pitches and conditions throughout the World Cup have been helpful for bowlers brave enough to pitch it up but the fast men, the genuinely fast men, have reigned supreme.

Tuesday’s rain clouds had emptied their payload but had remained above Manchester’s Old Trafford Cricket Ground on Wednesday morning as New Zealand added 28 runs to their overnight score, limping to 239/8.

With Rohit Sharma standing on a platform of three consecutive centuries and Virat Kohli desperate for a statement knock at this tournament, that total never looked like it would be enough. New Zealand knew they needed those two big names back in the shed as quickly as possible.

Boult opened the bowling and was immediately hooping it around corners and back into the right-hander. Few sights in cricket, perhaps all of sport, can compare to a cricket ball arcing through the air as if summoned by sorcery as it scythes a path of intent towards stumps and outside edges.

Boult is better than most at this. In fact, he has a claim to being the best. You see, unlike Starc or Amir or Bumrah, the New Zealand spearhead does not also lean on his pace. He is not a fast bowler who swings the ball. He is a swing bowler and a damn good one at that.

In the second over, Matt Henry found the outside edge of Sharma and sent the opener packing for just a single. Kohli strode to the wicket at 1/1 but the ICC’s predictor still had India at 78% favourites. This was, after all, the prince of world cricket. The greatest batsman alive. The fastest man to 10,000 ODI runs, reaching the milestone in 54 fewer innings than the demigod Sachin Tendulkar.

The game rested on this encounter. A place in the World Cup final was in the balance.

Boult’s first ball to Kohli was a tantalising full one wide outside the off stump. Kohli, usually ice cool, wafted at it as if he were a moth composed towards a candle’s flame. The mood shifted.

The next two deliveries went on from Boult’s left arm towards the right-handed Indian captain. One was bunted towards the covers, the next was chipped towards midwicket. It was a tight, probing, unrelenting line of attack.

Then the moment. Boult adjusted his length just a fraction and sent it further up the pitch. That allowed it to tailback into Kohli but not before drawing him forward and to his right. The batter lost his balance and fell over his front pad which was struck by the ball just above the knee roll.

It was delicious bowling. The sort of bowling that makes you watch this sport. The sort of bowling that keeps you up at night, wondering about a hypothetical world where you’ve been blessed with the genetic makeup of an international fast bowler and the natural gifts to make a cricket ball perform circus tricks.

Kohli reviewed but the decision was upheld. Boult celebrated the most coveted wicket in the world for the third time this year from only 23 balls bowled.

Henry removed KL Rahul three balls later and India found themselves in a hole at 5/3. That became 24/4 then 71/5 then 92/6 before Ravindra Jadeja and MS Dhoni put on a World Cup record seventh-wicket stand of 108 to rescue their nation’s cause and give a billion fans hope.

That endured until Boult came back into the attack and forced the mistake from Jadeja who skied one into the off side where Kane Williamson held on in the 48th over.

Boult would end with 2/42 and deliver two maidens from his ten overs. Henry received the player of the match for his 3/37 and Mitchell Santner rightly received plaudits for his 2/34, but Boult changed the match.

That wicket of Kohli, that breathtaking, hooping, magical delivery that made the world’s best batter look like a club cricketer with a glaring technical flaw, secured New Zealand’s place in a World Cup final for the second time in eight years.

Hey may not be intimidating, he may not be the bowler who you wished you were, but he is the undisputed king of swing. If clouds gather over Lord’s on Sunday, he may also be a World Cup winner.