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Page last updated at 08:05 GMT, Monday, 12 May 2008 09:05 UK

Southee signals intent

By Sam Lyon

As if New Zealand did not have enough to worry about ahead of their series against England, chief selector Sir Richard Hadlee says their main aim should be "not to embarrass themselves".

With the majority of expert opinion predicting a comfortable England win, Hadlee's comments ahead of the first Test can only prompt assumptions the tourists are preparing for a hiding.

Tim Southee
I guess it's nice to hear people like Sir Richard (Hadlee) say nice things about you, but then you've got to live up to that expectation

Tim Southee
The retirement of former captain Stephen Fleming, a bowling attack shorn of the world class Shane Bond, and the fact that five of their star players only joined the squad a week before the first Test thanks to their participation in the IPL, all contribute to the Kiwis' apparent vulnerability.

Add to that England's recent Test series win in New Zealand, as well as their fine recent home record, and a worry over the fitness of Kiwi skipper Daniel Vettori, and one might say the only debate is over the hosts' winning margin.

However, one reason England will not be taking the Kiwis lightly - and one reason why some are quietly predicting an upset - comes in the form of the Black Caps' shining new star, Tim Southee.

The 19-year-old exploded onto the Test arena in the Napier defeat to England in March, taking 5-55 with the ball and then smashing the fastest half century in Black Caps history with 77 from 40 balls.

A year after a being named Player-of-the-Tournament in the Under-19 World Cup, Southee has been awarded a central contract, named New Zealand's "Best Young Player" by his peers and described by Hadlee as "extremely special".

In short, adds Hadlee, "he can be a star this summer".

Southee, though, is not allowing himself to be overtaken by the hype and he spoke with maturity and modesty ahead of the series opener at Lord's.

"I guess it's nice to hear Sir Richard say nice things about you, but then you've got to live up to that expectation," he told BBC Sport.

"It's no good if I don't go out there and perform. There will be times when it's not going so well and it's only how I handle and learn from those spells that will define how good I can be.

"My debut was an absolute dream. But I'm sure England will have done a bit of homework on me and will be all the better prepared for that, so I don't suppose I can expect for things to go that well every match, unfortunately.

"I have to lot of hard work ahead of me. But I am more than happy to do that to get to where I want to be."

Born in Whangarei, the northernmost city in New Zealand, Southee got into cricket aged five thanks to his brother.

But it wasn't until he left school that he settled for the willow and leather rather than rugby and, since then, his rise has been meteoric.

"It's happened ridiculously quickly," he says. "I left school, made my first-class debut, then played in two under-19 World Cups, faced England in three Twenty20 matches and then was selected for my debut in the third Test against them in March.

"It's been unbelievable. I guess it's a good thing it's happened so quickly because I haven't had time to think about it, I've just gone out and taken it day by day.

"Now I find myself on a senior tour of England and that's something every Kiwi cricketer wants to be part of. It's really special."

A tour made even more special, says Southee, by the strength of England's team and the prospect of comparing notes with one of the world's leading all-rounders in Andrew Flintoff.

A fast bowler by trade, Southee's knock in Napier hinted at a future up the order - and Flintoff, despite injury ruling him out of the first two Tests at least, would be a fantastic player to learn from, says the 19-year-old.

"I guess I'm gifted with the bowling action I've got," says Southee, who impressed by keeping his action and accuracy in long spells against England despite his age.

"It's barely changed throughout my career, the odd adjustment here and there aside, so I feel I can bowl all day.

Tim Southee and the New Zealand team celebrate his wicket against England at Napier in March
We have a reasonably young side that is full of talent and, in the likes of Daniel Vettori and Brendon McCullum, we have match-winners

Tim Southee
"But as far as my heroes go, Hadlee was a bit before my time. I haven't actually seen him bowl a hell of a lot," he said.

"Someone I always used to look up to was Chris Cairns. He was the player I'd always be in the back yard and, while I'm a bowler who has a smash as a tail-ender at the moment, I definitely want to become a genuine all-rounder.

"I'm putting the hours in off the field to work on my batting, but on top of that coming up against - or even getting to meet and chat to - the likes of Flintoff will be awesome.

"It will be great, if I'm picked, to test myself against and learn from him, and the likes of Michael Vaughan and Kevin Pietersen.

"This time last year I was watching these guys play the West Indies on TV and it didn't even cross my mind that I would playing them a year later. Now I'm here and I'm keen to soak up every experience I can. It'll be awesome."

And it will be an experience made all the sweeter if New Zealand can throw the formbook on its head and spring a surprise - something Southee, unlike Hadlee, believes is more than possible.

"England at home, after the way they played in New Zealand, are bound to be red-hot favourites," he said.

"They are up there with the very best sides in the world, I guess, but I don't doubt we can beat them.

"We have a reasonably young side that is full of talent and, in the likes of Daniel Vettori and Brendon McCullum, we have experienced players who are match-winners on their day.

I've heard the stories about post-match celebrations and stuff... I'll do my best not to let the side down!

Tim Southee
"Kiwi teams are notorious for never thinking they are out of a game and we're definitely capable of producing something special and surprising a few people. It will be hard-fought series."

And it's not just on the field that Southee see himself and the Kiwis matching England.

"I've heard the stories about post-match celebrations and stuff," he laughs. "I'll do my best not to let the side down."

It's all tongue-in-cheek of course. After all, you don't emerge as one of world cricket's leading youngsters by 'mixing it' with the big boys on the town.

And if England think Southee is a youngster overwhelmed in the face of legend or reputation, they are very much mistaken.

Just ask Richard Hadlee.

see also
Mason sets up tour win for Kiwis
05 May 08 |  Cricket
Rain wipes out Kiwi tour warm-up
30 Apr 08 |  Cricket
New Zealand in England in 2008
01 May 08 |  Cricket
New Zealand's quiet arrival
24 Apr 08 |  Cricket
Panesar seals England series win
26 Mar 08 |  England

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