New Zealand's old fast-bowling firm of Southee and Boult amble down memory lane, with the occasional pause to poke each other in the ribs
The universe knew some legends had to be pitted against each other - Frazier and Ali, Ronaldo and Messi, Tom and Jerry - and that some just needed to be in each other's pockets.
"There's never been an occasion."
They're answering a question about whether they've dismissed each other.
"I've only bowled to him once," Southee says, "In an IPL match. You were playing for Kolkata and I was playing for Mumbai and I think honours were shared. He didn't hit me for a six or a four and I didn't get him out."
The thread could have ended there but these two have a familiarity that breeds cheek. Southee can't help but go on.
'We hope that kids want to pick up a ball one day and bowl fast'
'We hope that kids want to pick up a ball one day and bowl fast'
"I remember hitting him for a six when we were about… how old were we then?"
Boult has his head down. He's probably just thinking but it looks like he wants to forget. "That would've been 15-16."
These two are good at the theatre of having a go at each other.
Boult recalls his wedding, for which Southee was a groomsman. "Wouldn't say he played a huge role on the day…"
"I had to come back from the other side of the world," Southee says quietly.
Boult breaks out in a grin. "He did. He was in England playing cricket. It was August, middle of our winter basically. So of course, he made the financial journey to come all the way back home. On the record, I still owe him money for that flight. He's charging me interest."
The best bit of ribbing happens when we discuss their fielding. "Both have got pretty good hands," Southee says. "I think Trent makes his [catches] a little bit harder than he has to."
The room erupts with laughter and Boult rides the wave. "I'm more of an entertainer, you know."
"Whereas I try to make things look easy."
"I like to go for the 'Oh, I'm not looking' and then I suddenly get it."
Face-time: "It's nice to have a mate on tour," Boult says. "Doing things like playing golf, having coffee, having a beer, going for dinner. All the things we do on tour, we tend to do it together"
Stu Forster / © Getty Images
Face-time: "It's nice to have a mate on tour," Boult says. "Doing things like playing golf, having coffee, having a beer, going for dinner. All the things we do on tour, we tend to do it together" Stu Forster / © Getty Images
Team-mates aren't spared.
"I wouldn't say Mitch is a full-time golfer. He thinks he is." Sorry Santner, we shouldn't have brought it up. That was Boult, by the way, in case you'd like to book a tee time.
There is a pretend huff when one of us admits he likes Santner and Devon Conway more: our two protagonists prepare to exit stage left. "All right, let's get them in here instead."
There's a rhythm to Boult and Southee. They broke into cricket - and each other's lives - in their early teens, and they've been on the same side ever since. In many of the great pairings, they often end up playing against each other at the lower levels. But not these two. And what are the odds of two generational talents being born at the same time, in the same nation, picking up the same sport, rising to the top, and staying there, together, for so long?
"I think with the amount of time that we've spent together, you know, our friendship over the years, it was natural selection," Boult says.
"We've played age-group cricket, domestic cricket, international cricket, all three formats for a long time. So you just live out of each other's pockets, well, for the last 13-14 years and we've been very fortunate to get on with each other," Southee says. "And I think that's made life a lot easier not only on the field but off the field - it's nice to have a mate on tour. We spend so much time away. Doing things like playing golf, having coffee, having a beer, going for dinner. All the things we do on tour, we tend to do it together."
That now seems to include team updates. When Southee recovered from his finger injury to become available for selection at this World Cup, the picture that NZC tweeted out had Boult in it too.
A question about extracurriculars gets the friendly fire flying again.
"I love my music," Boult says. "Normally I always bring my guitar with me but it's been a big travel schedule the last couple of weeks so I haven't got it here, which is good for this interview. But Tim's a great dancer, so I'm sure he'll show that."
"Well, looks like this is audio-only," Southee says. "Otherwise… "
When reminded that phones can record video now too, he goes: "Ah, I've got a sore thumb."
It might be a shame they have only ever gone up against each other four times, all in the IPL, but we still have stories from the 259 other matches where they have been on the same side.
"The combination of left hand, right hand has been a great place to start," Boult says. "One swings it away, one swings it in. That's why we've had so much success. I think just that, well, the competitiveness of the both of us has put us in a good place where, a) we wanna get better, and b) learn off each other and teach each other as much as we can."
In Tests alone - which is where they have done most of their damage - they have 541 wickets between them from 65 matches. That makes Southee and Boult the most prolific bowling partnership in New Zealand cricket history. Spread the net a little wider and they are flanked by the likes of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis (559) and Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel (522).
© ESPNcricinfo Ltd
© ESPNcricinfo Ltd
"You strive as a kid to want to put on a Black Cap and play cricket for the country and then the next job is obviously having a career from there and making it last and to think of the 14 or so years that we've had the privilege of wearing the hat, you don't really think you could script it like that," Boult says. "But I think we've just been ourselves. We've just played as mates. Played the game what's in front of us and just managed to have a bit of success together."
Among their banner days was the pink-ball Test at Eden Park in 2018 where they bowled England out for 58. "The most rewarding feeling was when we took all ten wickets in the first innings in that game. We were the only ones to bowl," Southee says.
"We don't have a favourite wicket or one special moment really. I think just taking pride in building the pressure together. And not only the two of us, for such a long period of time, we've had good seamers to follow, and as a bowling group, we take a lot of satisfaction from that. But that game was special, just being the only ones to bowl and bowling them out."
Boult took six in that game, including the wicket of Ben Stokes with the three-quarter seam, or the wobble-seam, ball. "Tim taught me that. Can't remember when but it's definitely been something that's given me a lot of reward.
"Who taught you that?" he asks.
"Kyle Mills," Southee says. "So it's sort of been passed down. And I guess it's my job to pass it down and hopefully some other bowlers coming through have picked up along the way as well."
Boult and Southee LLC has a turnover of 857 international wickets from 170 matches
William West / © AFP/Getty Images
Boult and Southee LLC has a turnover of 857 international wickets from 170 matches William West / © AFP/Getty Images
"It's one of those things you just learn along the way," Boult says. "It doesn't happen too often but it's always a great feeling when you try to set someone up with it and it comes off."
For 65 Tests, 64 ODIs and 41 T20Is, their paths had been linked, but now they have begun to diverge. Southee has become the Test captain but he is yet to have the pleasure of officially bossing his old mate around. They had a chance in February when a Test match was played just down the road from Boult's place in Mount Maunganui, but after he opted out of a New Zealand central contract, he has fallen down the pecking order in that format. Yet, as a left-arm quick, and one with a penchant for picking up early wickets, he was always seen as vital to the team's prospects at the World Cup. Southee on the other hand, is not a certain starter in ODIs. The upshot is that the two have only played together once in 2023.
For the first time ever, the course of this partnership seems to be fighting the will of fate.
Southee is an all-format great for New Zealand. Only Richard Hadlee has more Test wickets than he does. Only Mills and Daniel Vettori have more ODI wickets than he does and no one in the world has more T20I wickets than he does. Still, he has ended up running drinks at this World Cup because there is another who has shown himself eminently capable and in doing so, highlighted a very simple truth.
"If you sit still, the game will pass you by," Southee says. "You're always looking at ways to continue to improve, so you can continue fulfilling the dream of playing this game. For me, I obviously don't have out-and-out pace, so you need to stay with the game and figure out ways you can still be effective and be effective in all parts of the world.
"So I guess that's been a big one for me - to try and continue to get better, and I guess [keep alive] the want and the hunger to continue to get better and keep learning. It's always there and it's still burning, just as much as it was as when I started."
We turn to talking about milestones and moments, of which there are many. Boult brings up Southee's 300th Test wicket, which came at Boult's home ground, Bay Oval. Haris Sohail was the batter picked apart, softened up by a bouncer that made his front foot malfunction on the following delivery, just when he needed it most, which made a drive meant to go along the ground end up as a catch at short cover.
"I'd love to know how many I've been there for, of the 350-odd." Boult says.
"370," Southee says again and everyone laughs.
They're even more competitive about their exploits with the bat. "It's our lesser sort of skill, so…" Southee says.
"What are you on the Test records for six-hitting?" Boult asks.
Tenth in the world, with 83, just one shy of Viv Richards' tally.
Boult has his own claim to press. He is only 13 runs away from beating James Anderson and becoming the highest-scoring No. 11 in international cricket history.
Wayback machine: Southee at training during the New Zealand tour of Sri Lanka in 2012, watched by bowling consultant Chaminda Vaas (first from left) and Boult (second from right)
Eranga Jayawardena / © Associated Press
Wayback machine: Southee at training during the New Zealand tour of Sri Lanka in 2012, watched by bowling consultant Chaminda Vaas (first from left) and Boult (second from right) Eranga Jayawardena / © Associated Press
"That's brilliant!" he says when told of this potential landmark ahead. "Oh my God, that's what I need to know."
"Two sixes and a single," Southee lays it out.
"And I have to be at No. 11. All right, well…"
"You think you should go up?"
"No, to get the record!"
"You need to get ahead, though. Because Jimmy's still…"
"Yeah, I know. That means I have to play more international cricket!"
The talk turns back to their bowling and they turn earnest again.
"You spend so much time planning and analysing what we can do different and how we can get guys out and stuff," Boult says, "when things start going to plan and guys have their days, five-six wickets, eight wickets. Seven wickets in Bangalore.
"It's all about enjoying those moments and getting around each other and having a beer and reflecting, and yeah, there's been some good times."
"I've had a pretty good sight sitting at slip to Trent," Southee says. "When he's in one of those spells, it's always impressive to watch. I guess it's hard to pinpoint one. But yeah, when he's on, there's not many better sights in cricket as to see him do his thing and the confidence that flows on from him to the rest of the team."
With a bunch of children in Visakhapatnam in 2016. "We hope that kids want to pick up a ball one day and want to bowl fast, move the ball in the air, swing the ball," Boult says
Aijaz Rahi / © Associated Press
With a bunch of children in Visakhapatnam in 2016. "We hope that kids want to pick up a ball one day and want to bowl fast, move the ball in the air, swing the ball," Boult says Aijaz Rahi / © Associated Press
Boult would like his influence to extend further. "I've always idolised swing bowling. We see in India, every kid wants to be Virat [Kohli]. A lot of kids want to be Kane Williamson etc, and wanna be batters around the world, and we hope that kids want to pick up a ball one day and want to bowl fast, move the ball in the air, swing the ball. Everyone looks at New Zealand and goes, 'Ah, its friendly conditions to bowl in' but it can be actually quite hard to bowl there. And yeah, that's what it's all about. Inspiring kids to want to pick up the ball and play the role that we have at parts in our career, and yeah, just do it."
Southee agrees. "If you had said when I was a kid that I'd play for 15-plus years for New Zealand, then yeah, I wouldn't have believed it (laughs). So hopefully you've inspired some kids to want to play cricket, because it's a great game and it's been very good to us.
"And when you speak about us as a side, I guess we've come from when we first started to where we are now, and leave it in a better place, and hopefully we've done that. I certainly have enjoyed doing it. And with the guys you've played with, you just wanna be known as a good team-mate, as a guy who just sort of gave it his all and just tried to give it everything for the country."
They do have one other way to create a fairly lasting legacy. "I've got three boys and you've got girls," Boult says. "So could be interesting in years to come."
Just imagine, in the future, there might be a fast bowler with both of their powers combined.
Alagappan Muthu and Deivarayan Muthu are sub-editors at ESPNcricinfo
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