Whenever Bangladesh dreamed of something big against New Zealand, they were undone by one man’s ferocity and baragge of short-pitch bowling directed towards the rib cage. He was Neil Wagner whose vicious bowling display shattered the dreams of Bangladesh and throughout the series, for the Bangladeshis, he was a nightmare.
Neil Wager has always been the specialist of short balls. The man you can always rely on to price out a wicket on a flat deck with both batsmen in full flow. He was an invaluable asset to Brendon McCullum and has proven to be much the same for Kane Williamson in the early days of his captaincy.
Never short of pace or aggression, no one can ever accuse Wager of not giving full commitment to the cause of New Zealand cricket. All around the world, it is New Zealand’s new ball pair of Tim Southee and Trent Boult that have received countless accolades. Perhaps, rightly so. Indeed, Richard Hadlee, New Zealand’s finest fast bowler, said in 2015 that the pair is the finest pace partnership in the history of Blackcaps cricket.
Few in their right mind can argue that Southee and Boult don’t pose a serious challenge on a green deck on the first morning. But it is Wagner, who keeps the pressure on. There is no relief or respite for the visiting batsmen once they have seen off the threat of Southee and Boult. Wager simply bounds in, full of fire and aggression, holding the batsmen with his unsettling gaze on his follow through.
Wagner has been a particular challenge for the Asian sides when they visit New Zealand, where the bounce is already testing enough without having to face a bowler who has made a successful career out of the short ball.
Bangladesh outweighed by Wagner ferocity
The touring Bangladeshis, traditionally excellent players of the short ball in comparison with their subcontinental compatriots, were at a loss as to how to cope with Wagner’s bouncer barrage. One only needs to think of well Tamim Iqbal plays the short pitched delivery, or even cast their mind back to a swashbuckling pull from by Mohammad Ashraful for evidence of Bengali prowess on the back foot. The roaring “Tigers” love nothing more than to pounce on anything short of a length.
Yet even an in-form Tamim Iqbal had been powerless to counter Wager’s constant, threatening attack. The first Test in Wellington witnessed some of the best Bangladeshi batting ever seen in foreign conditions, with the tourists piling on a mammoth 8/595 declared in the first innings.
On a pitch that settled down as the game wore on, Boult and Southee seemed powerless at times, and could only manage 2 wickets apiece. With Wellington the most docile of decks by day three, Southee finished with an economy rate of more than 4, while Boult was hardly any better. Yet Wager emerged with his head held high and was the pick of the bowlers, taking 4/151 from 44 overs with 8 maidens and proving the most economical bowler aside from Colin De Grandhomme, who only managed 20 overs and 2 maidens in comparison.
There is no doubt Wagner consistently hustled the Bangladeshi batsmen. Mominul Haque, a man who prior to this series was averaging close to 200 against the Kiwis, was hopping around at the crease in visible discomfort in the morning of day 1 and 2.
He broke the back of an important 85 run stand between Mahmadullah and Haque, and then got the prized scalp of a tired Shakib Al Hasan at the end of the third day for a Bangladeshi record of 217 before mopping up the tail. Wagner summoned the energy for a searing yorker late in the day and an exhausted Shakib could do nothing to stop the ball from cannoning into the stumps. In the second innings, he removed Mahmadullah again, and this time had Haque as well, caught behind for 23 as Bangladesh folded for a paltry 160 before folding to an 8 wicket loss.
The story was a little better for the tourists in Christchurch, with Wagner returning to torment Bangladesh for the second and final Test. In a thumping nine wicket win, Wagner claimed 1/44 and 3/44 as the tourists were rolled for 289 and 173, totals nowhere near good enough to challenge Blackcaps batting lineup boasting with talents like Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Tom Latham and BJ Watling.
Bangladesh were cruising in their first innings at 2/165, but collapsed dramatically to be bowled out for 289 at stumps. Wagner chipped in with the wicket of allrounder Mehedi Hasan Miraz, breaking a stubborn and obdurate partnership that threatened to frustrate New Zealand further.
New Zealand made the most of their day one comeback, posting an above par 354 (spearheaded by 98 from Henry Nichols) before Wager came to the bowling crease yet again, with nothing but aggression, vengeance and pace on his mind. Another bouncer display followed, as he made a bunny of Mahmadullah, dismissing him for the third time in four innings. He simply ripped out the heart of Bangladesh’s middle order, reducing them from a nervy 3/92 to 6/100 all but securing New Zealand a comfortable victory.
Time will tell how the annals of Test match cricket will remember Neil Wager, but in the eyes of his captain and indeed his teammates, he will not be quickly forgotten.