For two months in 2018, Matt Henry was England’s top tailor.
Heck, he was arguably the best tailor in the world. In Millennium slang, Henry woke up on the day the county tournament began and opted for violence. Like Kent in the second division, Henry took a mind-boggling 75 wickets in 11 games, with an average of 15.48 and a strike rate of 30.6, finishing at the top of the wicket takers chart. Not only was it unplayable, it was unplayable. The right winger, who was little more than a reserve for New Zealand, set the fire for Kent and helped the club secure promotion to the First Division, with the southeastern province racking up more wins than any other team in the competition.
After Henry, the captain of England, sent Joe Root Back at the wing with an absolute pearl lunch today, those in the comment box who haven’t watched the 2018 New Zealand campaign have rubbed off wondering how the right wing managed to put up such ridiculous numbers.
Kent legend and former England cricketer Rob Key, who had been keeping a close eye on that season, summed it up well: “He (Henry) did what Stevens did but 15kph is faster.” In other words, not only did Henry attack the stumps, he swung and cornered the ball in both directions, but he did so at a fast pace. The aforementioned combination of guns can take away from the best international hitters, so you can understand how and why Henry set his numbers.
But the tragedy lies in the fact that Henry, after his awful 2018 campaign with Kent, did not play a Test for the next 15 months. And when he finally played one, he served as fifth tailor behind Bolt, Souti, Wagner and De Grandhomme in a low-stakes showdown against Bangladesh, a position that once again brought him back to being the standing water boy.
There were reasons why Henry was always a backup, rather than a regular, on the New Zealand Test side. For one, he simply did not hit the ground running in the longest form as he did in ODI cricket. When Henry gave his first Test at Lords in 2015, he was already a star in over-50 cricket, having claimed 23 wickets in his first 9 matches. However, his experimental career did not take off. He took six wickets in his first-ever Whites appearance, but his next six appearances yielded only 11 wickets in 12 innings at 69. Disappointing returns automatically made it just a reserve.
Henry also, apart from not achieving the desired returns, suffered from injuries and saw himself vying with three of New Zealand’s greatest – Sottie, Wagner and Bolt – for a place in the first squad. It was no surprise that he ended up on the losing side, and while he was still able to be an integral part of the ODI group, he saw himself transforming into a water boy in taller form.
And so when news broke in the draw that Henry would, in fact, lead New Zealand’s attack at Edgbaston alongside Bolt, there was a sigh of relief among the English fans, and a scream of desperation among the neutrals. Both are for the same reason of course. Both sides knew deep down that Henry simply wouldn’t upset England in the same way that Soth had done at Lourdes. After all, before the start of the first day, his bowling average of 51.54 was the worst of all New Zealand footballers in history who took at least 25 wickets.
The manner in which Sibley and Burns so easily nullified the first session seemed to confirm all doubts. For the first time in a decade, England passed a full session without losing a small gate, and while there was a singles game, the first session at Edgbaston turned into a picnic for the opening matches. Henry found only 0.77 degrees of swing, well below the overall visitor average of 1.6 degrees, and he posed no real threat with his gentle, 130-degree floats. At 67/0 at lunch, Sibley and Burns returned to the wing hoping to put the New Zealand “second thread” attack – which, also, keep in mind, didn’t brag about Kyle Jamison and instead halted Ajaz Patel – to the sword.
But what they weren’t ready for is Matt Henry Kent to attend. And as soon as the second session began, England’s worst nightmare became a reality: Henry the Kiwi had been possessed by Kent Henry.
The numbers won’t explain the significance of Henry’s explosion immediately after lunch. 24 strokes is what he spilled in the Six Spell, and it wasn’t, say, as extravagant as the spell cast by his partner Bolt in his post-tea session. It wasn’t a swinging bowling show, nor was it a crazy clip, overflowing with speed, that sparked the viewer. But what he had was a mastery from the hand of a man who was silently anxious to prove to the world that he had always been better than his numbers suggested. By the time he cast the last ball of the spell, a somewhat strange sucker that Burns evaded, Henry had managed to earn the respect of all who watched him.
His method was simple: landing the ball in the lane of uncertainty and testing the batsmen’s patience. It was a stunt that didn’t work in the first session due to the absence of swing. However, a 0.60-degree increase in swing between sessions meant Henry’s stunt to usurp the fifth torso line went from harmless to deadly. In just the sixth ball of his spell, Henry managed to do something that none of Southee, Jamieson and Wagner were able to do across the Lord’s 207 balls: hack Dom Sibley’s ever-flexible defense.
However, Sibley’s share was just a prelude to what was about to come, as 12 balls exactly after that right winger Joe Root secured, for the first time in two years, his doom at home without facing 25 balls. Hit, hit, hit, hit, read the Roots innings summary, and in a jiffy Henry has become the first revamp since Pat Cummins to conquer England’s captain in the embryonic stages of his innings.
Henry isn’t as good as Cummins and he knows it. If he was, he would likely have gone through the English middle order, and not gone after Root’s expulsion. However, it has always been known that it was, and still is, not as bad as its test numbers suggest. And in those short periods after lunch, he explained precisely why.
Will Henry play the final of the World Championship Test? of course no. Will he continue to be New Zealand’s permanent water boy? of course, yes. But at least, after today, he is sure to make England fans anxious, because, too, they would have known there was a reason why he was the best player in their country for an entire season.