07/07/2022

IIt doesn’t say so much about New Zealand’s way – a philosophy England hope to capitalize on in Test cricket – that Matt Henry is laughing at the suggestion the jersey be the opening for the next Test series at Lords on Thursday.

In the Test Champions final against South Africa in February, Henry was named Series Player of the Year with 14 wickets and seven to 23 at the Hagley Oval, equaling Richard Hadley’s home record in New Zealand. The hangman was at Edgbaston in last year’s 1-0 win in England.

But despite being a World Cup finalist over 50 times, this powerful accelerator and right-armor has found few opportunities to test since his debut in 2015. Tim Southey and Trent Bolt have dominated the new ball for a decade, and Neil was the Wagner’s unique blow to the left arm in the first change, while the huge Kyle Jamison appeared recently.

“Haha, no,” Henry replied when asked if he was sure he was in the position now (not least with the latecomers in Bolt and Sauti from India). “It’s not something I worry about too much. The key to our group is to think about what you can do to contribute. It’s great to have a personal success, but that’s how you win for New Zealand.

“We were fortunate to have competition for places. Guys come in and understand their role and what is needed. It has changed over the years and it’s all about how you fit into trying to get 20 wickets for the team. It’s knowing there’s a bigger job, and that’s what this group is so proud of: they come to do work.”

The first-team mentality chimes with the trumpet calling of Ben Stokes, the son of Henry’s Christchurch team-mate, when he took over as England captain last month. The move to sign Brendon McCollum as head coach for all teams was a case of unabashedly beating a captain who set New Zealand down that path in hopes of achieving the same magical results.

“I can only speak from experience but I loved leading Brendon,” said Henry, who has had 21 caps in all forms under McCollum. “He’s great with people and builds relationships. I’m sure he’ll do a really good job with England.

“We are proud to craft our way, to work in a way that is authentic to us as a group, to have that style of play. Brendon was instrumental in shaping it, then Ken Williamson took on the role of captain and the group continued to evolve.

“Brendon’s job now is what that move with England looks like. I don’t know what that environment looks like, but you have a very strong group of players and when you come here – yes, there is a new captain and coach – nothing changes: it’s England on their terms.”

English terms and Dukes’ ball is something Henry clearly enjoys with spells at Worcestershire in 2016 and Kent two years later with 102 wickets for the championship at 18 throws each. He will surely return to the latter after this round, although he gave a wry smile when noticing how healthy he’s been playing this season.

New Zealand has made a similar move domestically over the past decade and although it is challenging, bowler Henry is credited with “adding tools to your belt”.

“I’d love to hit the new ball, but maybe you played the other end, you grab the ball, you hit it. Makes the days like summer [against South Africa] Cute,” he says.

Matt Henry celebrates after the sacking of South African player Aiden Markram at Hagley Oval. Photo: Andrew Cornaga/AP

Moments like these may not have been for Henry, who suffered a massive fracture in his lower back at the age of 21 after being unaffected for a year. Needless to say, he sympathizes deeply with the English sailors Saqib Mahmood, Jofra Archer and Matthew Fisher, who were absent from the field due to the same problem.

Henry’s condition was so bad that he had to undergo severe surgery that involved welding screws and a titanium cable to the bottom of his spine. The procedure, aided by fellow Canterbury Shane Bond, was previously seen as the last roll of the dice and not performed on a very young sailor.

“It was a hard time as a fast player, but I’m glad I got over the other side,” he says. The comeback was a mental battle. I was so lucky to have Bondi to grab a coffee and chat about it.

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And they have doubts, fears and fears that the problem will return. The most important thing Bond said was, “Your back is stronger than ever, you did everything right, just let it go and trust you.” I don’t think there is a magic answer to solving the bigger problem, but every throwing player is different and at their own stage of development.”

Ole Stone underwent the same procedure last summer, but it remains to be seen if others on the sidelines will need such a dramatic procedure. Henry, now 30 and with a distant memory, is evidence that there is a way back, although these days his only focus is to be the best possible teammate and hopefully get a nod at Lourdes.