Southee feeling more heat than love ahead of 100th Test

Set to become the first NZ fast bowler to reach a century of Test appearances, Tim Southee has been forced to fend off questions surrounding his captaincy and bowling

On a day when he might have reasonably expected a few backslaps from a grateful New Zealand public, Tim Southee instead found himself fending off pointed criticism of his captaincy and questions as to whether his upcoming 100th Test could conceivably be his last.

When he walks on to Christchurch's Hagley Oval tomorrow to toss the coin with fellow skipper Pat Cummins, Southee will become the first NZ men's fast bowler to reach a century of appearances in Tests.

But the 35-year-old is feeling the heat more than the love, despite the Black Caps currently sitting in second place on the ICC World Test Championship table (ahead of Australia) and having lost just three of their 11 matches since he took over as captain from Kane Williamson in late 2022.

Part of the pain stems from Southee's diminishing returns with the ball, with the swing-bowling specialist's most recent five-for coming against Sri Lanka at Hagley a year ago, and just 14 wickets at 35 runs apiece in his 13 innings since.

The right-armer's current struggles were most painfully obvious during Australia's first innings at Wellington's Basin Reserve last week when, after winning the toss and sending his foes into bat, Southee laboured for 27 overs to finish with 0-92.

And in the three home Tests he's led NZ in this summer against South Africa and Australia, Southee has taken 4-321 from almost 100 overs with a best of 2-46 in last week's second innings at the Basin.

"There's no hiding the fact the currency we deal in as bowlers is wickets, and the last three Test matches I haven't got the wickets I would have liked," Southee said today when asked about his recent form.

Cummins wants 'last big push' ahead of long Test break

"But I still feel like there's more to it, and there's roles to that as well.

"I've felt okay at times.

"Sometimes you feel good and you don't get the wickets, and sometimes you feel not so good and you actually pick up a few wickets.

"So I think it's just about trusting your game, trusting what you do.

"I've worked hard over the last couple of days alongside (NZ assistant coach) Kyle Mills on a couple of things.

"Just a couple of minor things that we've been looking at."

Southee found support from an unexpected quarter when Cummins expressed his "huge admiration" for his captaincy counterpart who arrived on the Test scene fresh from NZ's Under-19 World Cup team in 2008 and snared 5-55 in his maiden bowling innings against England at Napier.

With 378 wickets at 29.5 over his 99 outings to date, Southee is second only to the legendary Sir Richard Hadlee (431 at 22.3) among his country's most potent Test bowlers, and is currently 20th on the game's all-time wicket-takers list.

However, he has come under fire for more than his bowling in recent days with one of his former NZ teammates and captaincy predecessor Ross Taylor querying the circumstances surrounding the recent sudden retirement of veteran Black Caps seamer Neil Wagner.

Both Southee and Williamson – who also plays his 100th Test in tomorrow's encounter with Australia – have refuted suggestions Wagner was forced into quitting, with Southee adding he had forged a close friendship with the left-arm quick which he hoped would continue for years to follow.

But perhaps the most curious barb aimed at Southee was a suggestion his dismissal on the final day at Wellington – when he belted Australia spinner Nathan Lyon for a straight six but was caught on the long-on boundary when trying a repeat the dose two balls later – was brought about by ego.

In his recent appearance on ESPN's 'Around the Wicket' podcast, Taylor revealed Southee and another former NZ skipper Brendon McCullum had previously engaged in a bit of dressing room banter about the number of sixes they had struck in their respective careers.

This was then extrapolated to suggest Southee was trying to lift his current tally of 87 Test sixes (eighth on the all-time list) closer to McCullum's 107 (second behind Ben Stokes's 128) and that explained why he took to Lyon last week when NZ's tailenders needed to bat out five sessions to save the match.

"It's certainly not at the top of my mind," Southee said when asked if he had become preoccupied with bettering McCullum's benchmark for most sixes by a NZ batter.

"I'm obviously in the team as a bowler and batting at number ten, so not too many batting records I'm after.

"But a disappointing way to finish that Test match, obviously never a good look to get out that way."

Southee and Williamson join a select cohort of NZ men's players to reach 100 Tests, with only current Australia assistant coach Daniel Vettori and Taylor (both 112), Stephen Fleming (111) and McCullum (101) having reached triple figures, which reflects the paucity of Tests the Black Caps play.

Taylor played alongside Southee in 79 Tests from the time of the latter's debut until 2022, and captained him in eight matches including NZ's most recent Test win over Australia at Hobart in 2011.

"I haven't had a great deal to do with Ross since he retired, but he's obviously a great of our game," Southee said today.

Williamson defies gun Aussie attack with 'classy' Gabba ton

"He's entitled to his opinion, everyone's entitled to their opinion.

"But all I'm worried about, and all I have been worried about is the guys in the change room.

"We're the ones who go out there and do the work so it's like every Test match, our focus has been on what we're trying to do.

"There's always outside noise, there's always outside opinions which comes with the territory.

"He (Taylor) knows what it's like to be within those four walls, he was in there for 112 Test matches.

"So it's a little bit disappointing, but in saying that there's full belief within those four walls we can get the job done in the next five days."

Qantas Tour of New Zealand

Watch all the action from the NZvAUS Tour live and exclusive on Foxtel and Kayo Sports. Click Here to subscribe

February 29 – March 4: Australia won the first Test by 172 runs

March 8-12: Second Test, Christchurch, 9am AEDT

Australia Test squad: Pat Cummins (c), Scott Boland, Alex Carey, Cameron Green, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Michael Neser, Matthew Renshaw, Steve Smith (vc), Mitchell Starc

New Zealand Test squad: Tim Southee (c), Tom Blundell (wk), Matt Henry, Scott Kuggeleijn, Tom Latham, Daryl Mitchell, Glenn Phillips, Rachin Ravindra, Mitchell Santner, Ben Sears, Kane Williamson, Will Young.