Matt Henry: ‘Brendon McCullum is great with people – he’ll do a good job’ | New Zealand cricket team

It says plenty about the New Zealand way – a philosophy England are hoping to tap in Test cricket – that Matt Henry laughs at the suggestion a shirt is his come Thursday’s Test series opener at Lord’s.

In the last outing for the reigning Test world champions against South Africa in February Henry was named player of the series, with 14 wickets and figures of seven for 23 at Hagley Oval that matched the New Zealand home record held by Richard Hadlee; during last year’s 1-0 win in England, he was the executioner at Edgbaston.

But though twice a 50-over World Cup finalist, this strong, versatile right-arm quick has found Test chances fleeting since his debut in 2015. Tim Southee and Trent Boult have dominated the new ball for a decade, Neil Wagner has been a unique left-arm battering ram at first change, while the hulking Kyle Jamieson has recently emerged.

“Ha-ha, no,” says Henry, when asked if he is surely now an incumbent (and not least with Boult and Southee late arrivals from India). “It’s not something I worry about too much. The key for our group is worrying about what you can do to contribute. It’s great to have personal success but it’s how you get the win for New Zealand.

“We’ve been lucky to have the competition for spots. Guys come in, understand their role and know what is required. Mine has changed over the years and it’s about how you fit in to try and take 20 wickets for the team. It’s knowing there is a bigger job and that’s something this group has prided itself on: coming in to do a job.”

This team-first mentality chimes with the clarion call from Ben Stokes, Henry’s fellow son of Christchurch, on taking the England captaincy last month. The move to then rope in Brendon McCullum as the all-rounder’s head coach was a case of unashamedly pinching one of the leaders who set New Zealand on this path and hoping the same magic results.

“I can only speak from my experience but I loved Brendon’s leadership,” says Henry, who won 21 caps across all formats under McCullum’s captaincy. “He’s great with people and building relationships. I’m sure he’ll do a really good job with England.

“Something we’ve prided ourselves on is doing it our way, operating in a way that is authentic to us as a group, having that style of play. Brendon was instrumental in setting it up, then Kane Williamson took it on as captain and the group evolved further.

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

English conditions and the Dukes ball are something Henry clearly relishes with spells at Worcestershire in 2016 and Kent two years later producing 102 Championship wickets at 18 runs apiece. He is signed to return to the latter after this tour, although he cracks a wry smile when noting how true the pitches have played this season.

New Zealand made a similar move domestically over the past decade and, though challenging, Henry credits this for “adding tools to your belt” as a bowler.

“I like to strike with the new ball but you might still have done a role at the other end, holding, creating pressure. It makes days like summer [against South Africa] sweeter,” he says.

New Zealand bowler Matt Henry celebrates after dismissing South Africa’s Aiden Markram at Hagley Oval.
Matt Henry celebrates after dismissing South Africa’s Aiden Markram at Hagley Oval. Photograph: Andrew Cornaga/AP

Such moments might not have been for Henry, who suffered a severe lower back stress fracture at the age of 21 after bowling with it for a year undiagnosed. Needless to say he has huge sympathy for the England seamers – Saqib Mahmood, Jofra Archer and Matthew Fisher – who are out for the season with the same problem.

Henry’s was so bad he was forced to have the extreme surgery that involves fusing screws and a titanium cable into the lower spine. The procedure, which came with an endorsement from his Canterbury teammate Shane Bond had previously been viewed as the last roll of the dice and not performed on a seamer so young.

“It was a daunting time as a fast bowler but I’m glad I have got through the other side,” he says. “Coming back was a mental battle. I was very lucky to have Bondy around for a coffee and chat about it.

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“You have doubts, twinges and fears that the problem is returning. The most important thing Bond said was: ‘Your back is now stronger than ever, you’ve done everything right, just let go and trust it’. I don’t think there’s one magical answer to solve the wider issue, though, every bowler is different and at their own stage of development.”

Olly Stone underwent the same procedure last summer but it remains to be seen if others on the sidelines require such a dramatic intervention. Henry, now 30 and with the problem a distant memory, is proof there is a way back, with his sole focus these days being the best possible teammate and hopefully getting the nod at Lord’s.

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