Aussie helped inspire Boult

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Trent Boult was born in Rotorua. Photo / Alan Gibson

By David Leggat

Life is pretty good right now for Trent Boult. At 27, he's in his cricketing prime, is in strong form, is among the first names written down in New Zealand's test and ODI teams and in August will marry his fiancee Gert.

He's now preparing to face South Africa in a five-game ODI series between the game's No1 and No3-ranked teams, then three tests.

These are happy days for New Zealand, unbeaten at home this summer. South Africa will seriously test that record and Boult looms as a key figure.

He professes not to stress over statistics - "I do look at my batting average" the No11 specialist quipped. Indeed, the news that he'd lost his No1 ODI bowling ranking this week to South African legspinner Imran Tahir didn't particularly bother him, apart from one point: he retains a healthy cynicism for the methodology around player rankings.

"Seriously, I do not understand how those rankings work. I've just got my best figures against the best team in the world [six for 33 against Australia in Hamilton] and lost top place.

"I'm more driven by taking wickets and winning matches. If I'm fifth best in the world or first, I'm still the same bowler I was last week."

Born in Rotorua, he moved with parents Ian and Wendy and older brother Jono (the Northern Districts spinner) to Ohope at five, then Tauranga, where he attended Otumoetai College.

Boult is a rare case of a rising talent who took an alternate route to the top, playing for New Zealand A before making his debut in domestic first-class cricket.

ND at that time were overloaded with decent seamers. His good mate Tim Southee, seven months older, was there, along with former internationals Graeme Aldridge, Ian Butler and Brent Arnel.

Boult went to the 2007-08 Under-19 World Cup, on an Emerging Players tour to Queensland in 2008, then headed for Australia and India with New Zealand A.

A few weeks after taking his maiden first-class wicket, Indian star Suresh Raina in September 2008 - Boult has the photo at home - he snapped up five for 58 in his debut domestic first-class match for ND against Otago at University Oval.

Curiously that game also marked the first-class debut of his test fast-bowling chum Neil Wagner.

Before graduating to test cricket, Boult experienced his first, and to date most significant, injury setback, a stress fracture which sidelined him for months through 2009 and 2010.

"In a way I was very happy that happened to me," he said of the injury. "I learnt a lot about myself and what's needed from a conditioning and body point of view, being able to sustain playing, training and coping with everything that comes with it.

"I struggled a lot mentally with it. You're constantly asking yourself, 'Is your back sore? Is it another stress fracture? Has it not healed? Am I pushing it too early?'

Boult is not overly enthusiastic about the psychological side of sport but he never doubted he would make it back.

While recuperating, Boult saw a men's health magazine which had Australian star fast bowler Mitchell Johnson on the cover.

Johnson went through four stress fractures, a multitude of side strains and kept himself on the park in a triumph of perseverance.

"I used to have this pinned on the wall in my bedroom," says Boult.

"The way he operates is pretty inspiring, running sightscreen to sightscreen, the gym sessions and what he focused on.

"That, in my opinion, is what a fast bowler is about - very professional, very fitness orientated."

Boult's test debut in Hobart in December 2011 came about through an injury to Dan Vettori.

New Zealand had been tonked in the first test at Brisbane.

As he got in the van in the morning, bowling coach Damien Wright rang him and told him to start preparing.

"I saw Dan doing stride-outs between the cones. Not good.

"My heart was racing, then I was presented with my cap by Dan. It was cool - and the game raced by."

New Zealand won a thriller by seven runs.

Boult took four wickets, Mike Hussey the first, and it is still among his favourite dismissals.

A big win over Zimbabwe followed but "the more tests you play and the harder the wins are to come by, I've quickly realised how tough it is to win test match cricket, and overseas is twice as hard".

His five for 27 against Australia in the Cricket World Cup pool game at Eden Park two years ago - including taking five for one in 17 balls at one point - remains "an incredible day".

"I was running in not trying to do anything, then you bowl three people and get two caught at cover. I'm not going to sit there and say I was going to get five wickets in this spell. No one does that, but that's what happened."

Continued below.

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Boult, an athletic figure in the field and full of enthusiasm for his work, appeals as a man of firm views. You get a feeling he's not interested in things he can't control.

Pink ball tests for example. He's not a fan but qualifies that by saying the inaugural contest against Australia in Adelaide, when he ripped out five for 60 to throw a late spanner in Australia's charge to victory, was among his most enjoyable - "great crowd, great weather, great game".

His view on test cricket is reassuringly traditional.

"It's a format that been around how many years. That's how you compare yourself with Richard Hadlee or Wasim Akram, everyone around the world, the greats of New Zealand cricket. I think it should remain in a format that is the purest form.

"Test cricket is still definitely the format I love the most."

Does he have a say in which ball is chosen before the start of an opposition innings?

Not interested.

"I really don't care. Ask someone who does pick the ball and ask them what they're looking for.

"They'll pick it up, think the seam is smaller or its heavier or flick it up and down and it wobbles or they think it's out of balance."

Boult's rise in the New Zealand side coincided with Brendon McCullum's elevation to captain. Call it a happy marriage of the minds - an aggressive, attacking captain and a bowler who fitted that bill to a tee.

"[It was] the way he captained, his aggressive mindset, his hunger to be attacking and set the game up.

"Him standing at mid-off and backing you 100 per cent, you could feel the faith he's put in you.

How he did that I don't know. If he backed you, there was no doubting it; just go and do it. He was brilliant."

Targeting a specific bowling opponent to better at the start of the series? No.

"I definitely don't do 'I want to get more wickets than [Mitchell] Starc'.

"What does it mean? I sit down at the end and say, 'Yeah, I got two more wickets than him but we lost the series.'"

Nor does he single out opposing batsmen.

"I'm not one to wake up and see in the paper that 'Boult singles out Faf du Plessis'. That's just silly."

He won't pick out special dismissals - "The balls I like are to left-handers when it swings late and you can see them turn around, and it hits the top of off stump or they nick it through."

Akram, the great Pakistani left-armer, was Boult's early inspiration. They chatted during the Indian Premier League. Boult particularly wanted to pick his brain on reverse swing.

Boult talked about problems he'd had at certain grounds when reverse swing wouldn't work effectively for him.

"He said, 'What are these grounds?' I said Sharjah, Abu Dhabi, Hyderabad, Colombo, for example.

"He said, 'I've played 10-15 tests at these venues, I have 100-plus wickets there. The venues are fine.' So funny."

Cricket can be a complex game and Boult knows coping with the down times is just as significant as capitalising when the going is good.

"That's when you learn, when things are going wrong. [It's] your ability to turn it around, figure it out and realise what is needed to make it right.

"You don't wake up every day and it just comes out beautifully, and everything just happens."

The stats

Tests

Games: 49

Wickets: 185 at 29.0, 5 x 5 inn, 1 x 10 match

ODIs

Games: 43

Wickets: 81 at 23.37, 2 x 5 inn

T20s

Games: 13

Wickets: 18 at 22.33 (before last night)

First-class

Games: 80

Wickets: 287 at 27.39, 13 x 5inn, 1 x 10 match

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