Instead, Boult bore the brunt of one of the most astonishing onslaughts in Test history, as Jonny Bairstow emerged after tea to belt a 77-ball century and 136 from 92 balls all told, in a thrilling five-wicket victory. And though Boult got his man in the end, it wasn’t until he’d been thrashed for three fours and three sixes from Bairstow’s previous ten balls, as England raced to victory with 22 overs of their allocation unused.
“He’s pumped me a couple of times, actually, Jonny,” Boult said during the build-up to the third Test at Headingley. “The way he played in that final day was very special. He really took the game by the horns and didn’t let go. He’s definitely a big player for them in the middle order and we know how destructive he is, he’s done it many a time.
“To be on the wrong side of that result was pretty tough, but I think a lot of credit’s due to some phenomenal cricket that’s been played there,” he added. “Nothing too much changes for us [at Headingley] but hopefully we get into him nice and early with the ball a bit new, and we’ll see what happens.”
The result meant that New Zealand, the reigning World Test Champions, are already 2-0 down in the three-match series, after losing the Lord’s Test by five wickets as well. Boult conceded it would be hard to rally for what is now a dead-rubber, WTC points notwithstanding, but insisted they would be ready to go again come Thursday.
“I suppose it’s hard being 2-0 down in the series,” he said. “But there’s a lot of pride in that changing room from some of the performances we’ve put out over the last few years. If we’re fair we probably haven’t been at the standards we want to be as a group, it’s nice to have one game to go out and play like we know we can.”
The scoreline arguably hurts all the more for New Zealand given that one of their own has been such a key factor in the series. Brendon McCullum’s impact as England’s head coach has been astonishing, given that the team had won one match in 17 prior to his arrival last month, and Boult was impressed by the speed with which they had absorbed his message of positivity.
“They are playing like I thought he told them to,” he said. “It’s a new change for English cricket. What a start, both games so far have been thrillers really. For Test cricket as a whole, hopefully we see many more games like that, and get many more eyes watching.”
A major factor at Trent Bridge, however, was the absence through injury of Kyle Jamieson, who felt a sharp pain in his lower back while bowling in the first innings, and was unavailable to share the load when the going got tough in the second. He’s since been ruled out of the whole series – his first major setback in a previously stellar arrival in Test cricket.
“It’s hard for Kyle, I know he’s disappointed with walking off with an injury, every fast bowler is in that situation,” Boult said. “He’s played some great cricket over the last couple of years. You look at some of the guys on the sideline, everyone wants to put their hand up and go out and perform for the side. There’s a guy called Neil Wagner who’s keen to get out there as well, I’m not sure if he’ll walk straight back in, but I know the XI who are selected will go out there and be desperate to do well.”
Another guy who is set to walk back in is New Zealand’s captain, Kane Williamson, who was withdrawn on the eve of the match after testing positive for Covid. Michael Bracewell and Devon Conway have since undergone five-day periods of isolation after also picking up the virus, but Boult said they were all fit and ready for selection.
“He’s a big player for us,” Boult said of Williamson. “His record speaks for itself, everyone’s healthy and available for selection. It looks like another good wicket, so we’ll see what happens.
“[Kane]’s always hungry to get in the nets. He was disappointed to have to sit out the last game. It was a big game for us. He’s hungry to get out there to lead the side and desperate to get some runs. I know the boys are looking forward to the challenge. There have been some good chats going on off the ground. Hopefully we can let the bat do the talking and we’ll go from there.”
Boult’s key role in the series for New Zealand is all the more impressive given his limited preparation time. Due to Rajasthan Royals’ qualification for the IPL final, he arrived in the country with just 48 hours to acclimatise ahead of the Lord’s Test. However, he impressed in that game too with three first-innings wickets in England’s collapse to 141 all out, and insists he’s got the stamina and the motivation to dig deep once more.
“I flew through Dubai, then came to here… and then just really cracked on with it really!” he said. “The Dukes ball is always exciting to get in your hand and it’s nice to see the ball move around a little bit. It’s one of those things, a lot of the guys in that group have a lot of passion to put the Black Cap on their head and the motivation for everyone is there to go out and perform. So it was an easy choice for me.
“I enjoy the conditioning side of things and the stuff that goes in off the field,” he added. “It’s a big challenge. Test cricket is called Test cricket for a reason and it’s the format I’m definitely the most passionate about. So when there is an opportunity to put the Black Cap on and the whites, I try to grab it with both hands.
“It’s been a busy couple of months for me coming from the IPL. It is a challenge as a modern-day fast bowler to move between the formats but I love the challenge, I love the opportunity to run in for my country and the group of guys in there as well. It was nice to get away and refresh a little bit and the guys are energised and really looking forward to the next couple of the days. “
Asked if he was more proud of his runs than his tally of 313 Test wickets, Boult joked: “The runs. No… I enjoy my batting.”
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket