If Kane Williamson stepping down as Test captain was a shock, Tim Southee taking the reins ahead of Tom Latham would surprise even more.
It’s a brave call from the powers that be at New Zealand Cricket. But it’s absolutely the right call.
Brave because while Southee’s led New Zealand in 32 white ball matches, he’s never taken the reins in a Test.
On the other hand, Latham’s filled in on nine occasions when Williamson’s been unavailable and would’ve been the logical replacement.
It’s also brave because Southee is one of the Test XI’s frontline bowlers, just the second specialist paceman to captain New Zealand in history.
Leading a test side as a bowler adds a considerable workload to what is already a significant physical task.
But Southee has an element of aggression that the Black Caps need in the current climate.
Test cricket is rapidly evolving, led by England.
Their change of coach to former Black Caps captain Brendon McCullum who, in turn, has instilled Ben Stokes as their skipper, has led them to remarkable results in the short time they’ve been in charge, most recently in Pakistan.
Let’s be honest, the Gary Stead and Southee combination won’t nearly be as aggressive as what McCullum and Stokes are, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Latham and Williamson are too similar – more calculated, more reserved, not willing to push the boundaries as much as Southee likely will, a trait that’s required in the Test game right now.
He’s been there through the McCullum and Williamson eras and has seen what’s worked and what hasn’t in the most successful period in the Black Caps’ history.
New Zealand have also lost a wealth of experience in one fell swoop with the retirements of batting great Ross Taylor and all-rounder Colin de Grandhomme, while the move from bowler Trent Boult to opt out of his New Zealand Cricket contract to pursue franchise offers has also been a blow.
Southee’s been around this team for the best part of 14 years. If anyone in the Black Caps knows the current players and the ones coming through best, it’s him.
There is the obvious, often asked, question which could deter some from believing this is the right path to go down – how long does Southee have left?
It’s a fair question with an eye to the future for this team and, on the face of it, the answer would be possibly only a couple of years.
But, in nearly every conversation I’ve had with Southee, he’s reiterated he is still feeling fresh and strong and has never indicated he’s close to calling time on his career.
It seems at 34, he likely has longer left in him than many suspect.
That, to me, is enough to think this isn’t just a move to plug a gap for two years, but NZ Cricket bosses genuinely believe Southee may be around for a longer stretch than most anticipate.
Latham would’ve been a sound appointment as captain, but Southee is the bold, brave and correct call for the Black Caps to move forward.