Four matches into this 2023 ODI World Cup, Matt Henry ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/cricketers/matt-henry-506612) has nine wickets at an average of 18, and an economy rate of 4.84. This leaves him sandwiched between Jasprit Bumrah ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/cricketers/jasprit-bumrah-625383) and Shaheen Shah Afridi ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/cricketers/shaheen-shah-afridi-1072470) (who also has nine) – two of the biggest names in fast bowling.
Henry, 31, made his ODI debut in 2014, before Bumrah, and long before Afridi. His average of 25.67 and economy rate of 5.15, is broadly in the vicinity of Bumrah (23.52 and 4.61) and Afridi (23.17 and 5.50).
Is he close to being among ODI seam bowling’s biggest names, then?
Has he played in two ODI World Cup finals – two more than Bumrah or Afridi have appeared in? Oh wow.
Henry slides low, partly, you suspect, by design. No branded celebrations here, no dazzling actions, the limelight is fine way over there, thank you. He has been party to New Zealand’s greatest cricketing era as well as their finest fast-bowling years (closely linked phenomena, obvs), but has not known the popularity that Trent Boult ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/cricketers/trent-boult-277912) and Tim Southee ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/cricketers/tim-southee-232364) enjoy, not bowled with the fire that Neil Wagner hails from the skies, and not had the open-mouthed gasping over pure pace that Lockie Ferguson ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/cricketers/lockie-ferguson-493773) and Adam Milne before him have had.
Henry is a seam bowler from New Zealand’s great 2010s and early 2020s, but feels like a New Zealand seam bowler from the 2000s. Which is to say, aww well, y’know, he runs in every ball, bungs it down on a good length, and gets the new cherry to move in the air quite a bit and, oh, maybe he’s pretty good on his day don’t you worry.
No one is worried. But few are exultant, either. But why? These are pretty impressive numbers. Let’s dive in.
Since the 2015 World Cup, only Boult has a better ODI average among bowlers with 35 or more wickets in the opening 10 overs. In that powerplay, and roughly the last eight-and-a-bit years, Henry averages 21.13, with 59 wickets and an economy rate of 4.19.
India will remember him from the semi-final at Old Trafford four years ago ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/series/icc-cricket-world-cup-2019-1144415/india-vs-new-zealand-1st-semi-final-1144528/full-scorecard). On as drizzly and miserable a Manchester morning that still allowed cricket could be imagined, Henry moved one away deliciously late to Rohit Sharma and took his edge, did virtually the same thing to KL Rahul, and had Dinesh Karthik caught at backward point. This was all in the first 10, which as we know, Henry dominates.
He was less impressive when the swing disappeared, but even outside of Old Trafford, this has been the theme of his career. Since the start of the 2019 World Cup, his average through the middle overs (between the 11th, and 40th over), Henry’s average rises to 37.50.
Yes, it is spinners who are expected to take wickets during this phase, but just to put Henry’s numbers in context, his average is worse than that of uninspiring dobblies merchants such as Dasun Shanaka and Colin de Grandhomme, but also Shardul Thakur who, by the way, is crushing this category, averaging 23.21 during the middle, which perhaps helps explain his ongoing inclusion.
Even at the death, Henry has been modest. He’s had a worse economy rate than South Africa’s Andile Phehlukwayo, or West Indies quicks such as Sheldon Cottrell or Alzarri Joseph, whose team of course did not make this World Cup.
But in this World Cup there has been an upending. Henry has been menacing when he has bowled early, sure. But in the middle and the death – this is where he has shined. If shining isn’t exactly Henry’s vibe, then glowed.
Some highlights include the massive wicket of Jos Buttler ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/cricketers/jos-buttler-308967) in the 34th over of New Zealand’s tournament opener, when Henry got the ball to dart away a touch off the deck. Against Mushfiqur Rahim ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/cricketers/mushfiqur-rahim-56029) two games later, he bowled a slower one that deceived a supremely experienced batter, and rattled his stumps. This was in over 36.
And then against Netherlands, two of his wickets came at the death.
Of his nine wickets in this World Cup so far, six have come after the 33rd over. And he is about to bowl against India at a venue at which seamers tend to prosper even outside the first 10, in which Henry is a specialist. In 14 ODI innings in Dharamsala, seamers have taken 69 wickets at an average of 27.66 ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://stats.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/stats/index.html?bowling_pacespin=1;class=2;filter=advanced;ground=1920;groupby=ground;host=6;template=results;type=bowling).
New Zealand, the only other team so far to go unbeaten apart from India, have plenty going for them outside of Matt Henry. But for once, it is impossible to ignore that Matt Henry has been instrumental to their advance.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo’s Sri Lanka correspondent. @afidelf
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