Matt Henry removed KL Rahul, Rohit Sharma and Dinesh Karthik cheaply ©Getty
As the players from New Zealand walked out to the middle of a World Cup semifinal game versus their fancied opponents, India, those 11 cricketers were looking to chart out a path to grab a date at Lord’s – the final of cricket’s showpiece event. However, with a slightly below par score of 239 on the board, New Zealand were walking on a tight rope against a batting unit that had players of the calibre of Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli.
So, Kane Williamson’e men needed a spark of inspiration; someone who could run through the cream of India’s top order with the new ball. The cameras were mostly zoomed in on New Zealand’s lynchpin, Trent Boult. After all the left-arm pacer was the second highest wicket-taker for his side in the tournament so far, and had previously troubled India’s in-form opener, Rohit Sharma. The onus was certainly placed on New Zealand’s gun bowler. Just that, on occasions, there could be a cricketer who flies under the radar, and we need to scratch the surface to get the bigger picture.
Matt Henry, the Christchurch-born fast bowler, was the one who emerged out of Boult’s shadows and picked up the crucial scalps of Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul and Dinesh Karthik to leave India reeling at 24 for 4. Boult still played the supporting role by picking up the prized scalps of Virat Kohli and Ravindra Jadeja, but on the day, it was Henry who rightly hogged the limelight with his game-changing performance.
The 6’2″ tall pacer is basically a seamer, who on occasions, seems to get that kicking bounce. So, in conditions, where there is any assistance off the surface, he is a force to reckon with.
With rain pushing the semifinal to Day 2, the conditions – with moisture seeping under the pitch – became idea for Henry to shine. The pacer tends to bowl scrambled seam and that worked for him on a track that was aiding his style of bowling. With scrambled seam, the seam tends to wobble. Subsequently, when it pitches, if it lands on the shiny part, it would skid on, or bite if it hits the seam.
Henry employed this tactic to ram home the advantage against India’s top order. With his scrambled seam, it seemed to have skidded and nipped away off the pitch to produce the edge of Rohit. Rahul was done in by a delivery that had more bite. Meanwhile, Karthik too played away from the body to a delivery that jagged a hint off the pitch and was brilliantly caught by Jimmy Neesham. In between, he also troubled Virat Kohli with a couple of deliveries that skidded and moved off the track.
It was a combination of great lengths and Henry’s ability to extract movement with his scrambled seam variety that left the Indian batsmen searching for answers. To compound India’s problems, as expected, a few deliveries didn’t seam and that made it trickier for the batsmen to play the seaming ball.
Mike Hesson, the former head coach of New Zealand, in his column for stuff.co.nz revealed Henry’s role in the side. “If you’re Matt Henry, your job is to bowl a scrambled seam, hit a great length and challenge the top order with the new ball.”
Even if we look back at his early career, Henry was renowned for extracting nip off the pitch at a decent burst of pace. His ability to find nifty seam movement can be encapsulated by his match-turning opening spell versus Northern Districts in the 2014-15 Plunket Shield season. He dismissed both Dean Brownlie and Joseph Carter with the scrambled seam variety that jagged off the surface. He also accounted for the scalp of Daniel Flynn.
A few years later, he was in prime form while playing for Kent as he bagged 75 scalps to propel his side to Division 1. The wickets at Canterbury generally offer some help for seamers and Henry made life difficult for most of the batsmen in the County circuit. His simple methods can be again capsulised by how he removed the Gloucestershire opener Chris Dent at Canterbury with a pitched up delivery that wobbled a bit in the air, skidded and nipped to shatter the timber. In the ongoing World Cup, he used his experience of playing in England by picking up a five-for versus Sri Lanka on a Cardiff surface which offered movement off the pitch.
However, on the flip side, despite possessing a very good ODI record (91 wickets at just 26.34), he seems to struggle a bit with varying his pace in the slog overs. A couple of weeks ago at the same Old Trafford ground, albeit better conditions for batting, Henry either bowled short or in the slot as West Indies’ explosive all rounder Carlos Brathwaite explored all corners of the ground to crack three sixes and a boundary in the end overs.
It gives an indicator that the quick perhaps has something to learn in terms of mixing up his pace and variations in the slog overs. But, Henry found his moment in the sun with a career-defining spell on Wednesday. The New Zealand camp would now hope for Henry to find his zone once more in the all-important Lord’s final, where conditions could just be tailor-made for his style of bowling.