Opinion: The Black Caps need Lockie Ferguson at Test level

5:08 pm on 21 August 2019

Opinion - Lockie Ferguson's Test cricket debut can't be far away.

Lockie Ferguson bowls during the Cricket World Cup 2019 match between New Zealand and Bangladesh at The Oval.

Black Caps short-form pace bowler Lockie Ferguson. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

If Jofra Archer's successful introduction to the Test arena has taught us anything, it's that pace frightens batsmen in any format and white-ball success can be replicated with a red one.

Promising, rather than world class, would have been the description for Ferguson until recently. But his performances at the Cricket World Cup, where he took 21 wickets and bowled with real hostility en route to selection in the team of the tournament, showed he belonged in elite company.

Archer took 20 wickets for England at the world cup, before making his Test debut in the second Test of England's Ashes series against Australia. His match analysis of 5/91 was useful enough but his effectiveness is almost best-illustrated by the number of Australian batsmen he hit, including Steve Smith.

No-one wants to see players seriously hurt, or worse, on a cricket field. But intimidation is a big part of the game and few things excite fans quite like genuinely quick and accurate fast bowling.

Ferguson's Black Caps teammates are in Sri Lanka at the moment, where they lost the first Test of a two-match series by six wickets in Galle.

Once this series is done, they next play Test cricket at home against England, before a three-match series in Australia.

Ferguson's first-class record of 149 wickets, from 41 matches, at an average of 24.65 and a strikerate of a wicket every 43.7 balls is very good and it would be wonderful to see him go toe-to-toe with Archer or Australia's fast-bowling spearhead Patrick Cummins.

New Zealand's Test match attack could probably do with a bit of invigorating too.

Trent Boult remains an outstanding operator in all conditions, while the team have been given great service by Neil Wagner. Spinners Ajaz Patel and Will Somerville were good in Galle, but struggle to get a game in home conditions.

Colin de Grandhomme can be effective in the right circumstances and then there's Tim Southee.

Something of a veteran now, it's hard to see how the 30-year-old Southee played in Galle. He bowled seven wicket-less overs in Sri Lanka's first innings, before taking 1-33 off 12 in the second.

Given the right pitch and overhead conditions, Southee has nicked out plenty of good batsmen in his time. But in Galle, where things didn't suit his style of bowling, Wagner would surely have offered more penetration. Maybe even Ferguson, with his pace and ability to bowl full and straight, had he been selected for this tour.

There's an enduring feeling of what might have been with Southee. In 66 tests, the 5-55 the took on debut in 2008 is still his sixth-best innings haul and the 77 not out his best effort with the bat.

But, hey, at least he's a New Zealander. Watching Archer, the 24-year-old from Barbados who played under-19 cricket for the West Indies, you can't escape the feeling he's playing for the wrong team.

Matthew Wade is struck on the helmet by a Jofra Archer delivery during the 2nd Ashes Test Match between England and Australia at Lord's Cricket Ground.

Matthew Wade is struck on the helmet by a Jofra Archer delivery during the 2nd Ashes Test Match between England and Australia at Lord's Cricket Ground. Photo: Photosport

England's colonial past means players from all over the Commonwealth have appeared for them over the years. Archer is hardy the first cricketer from the Caribbean to play for England, just as there have been plenty of South Africans who've done the same.

Allrounder Ben Stokes, like Andrew Caddick before him, is a born-and-bred Cantabrian.

Just on Stokes, there's no doubt he's a good cricketer. The hundred he scored against Australia this week was his seventh at this level, lifting his Test batting record to 3336 runs at an average of 34.75 in 54 tests.

There are also 131 wickets, at an average of 32.43 and a strikerate of 58.2, on top of that.

Again, Stokes is a good player and gets plenty of praise, but here's some context.

It's not fashionable to talk about Chris Cairns anymore but, whatever did or didn't happen during the ill-fated Indian Cricket League, you can't take his Test record away from him.

In 62 matches for New Zealand Cairns scored 3320 runs at 33.53, including five hundreds. With the ball, he claimed 218 wickets at an average of 29.40 and strikerate of 53.6.

Some people feel, and maybe with some justification, that Cairns under-achieved on the Test stage. But looking at his numbers compared with Stokes who, again, doesn't appear to want for accolades, you'd have to say Cairns wasn't a bad player.

As for Archer, England need to be careful with him. He bowled 44 overs against Australia at Lord's - the most of any of England's bowlers - and you'd hate to see them blunt his effectiveness or injure him through overuse.

As an aside, Archer's performance only served to illustrate how frightening it must've been to face the West Indies in their pomp.

Archer terrorised Australia on his own, so imagine the old four-pronged Windies attacks made up of Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Joel Garner, Colin Croft, Malcolm Marshall, Patrick Patterson, Curtly Ambrose, Ian Bishop and Courtney Walsh.

The Black Caps are in no danger of lighting a Fire in Babylon anytime soon but, in Ferguson, they do at least possess one bowler of genuine pace, who appears fairly durable too. At 28, he's not a young man so, frankly, the sooner he's given a game in the Test team, the better.

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