“Wagner has a special affinity with the Basin Reserve which reflects in his 25 scalps from his last five Test appearances on the ground at an impressive average of 26 – two points less than his international bowling average”
When the Basin Reserve finally opened its arms for some cricketing action to get underway after two days of monotonous drenching from the Rain-Gods, it was expected to offer some sideways movement for the red-cherry to please the likes of Tim Southee and Trent Boult. But instead of the lateral movement expected, the Blackcaps pace battery was astonished to see the lack of it. The level of expectations can be seen from the fact that Neil Wagner, predominantly a hard-ball bowler, was pitching the ball up to gain some sideways mischief on his deliveries, only to be left disappointed by the deceptively green pitch.
“I try to pitch my first over up, and I went for 10 runs,” said Wagner in the post-day presser.
Wagner eventually ended up with the most successful figures of 4 for 28 runs for his side after being introduced into the attack as late as the 31st over of the Bangladeshi innings. So, what worked for him when the traditional expectation defied him? The answer lies in the bowler he is. Yes, his role for the team is that of a relentless work-horse who can come and target the upper part of the batsmen’s body all day long without showing any signs of fatigue. And boy! he did execute the role to perfection.
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After learning about the deception of that green track, Wagner immediately switched back to his usual self of unleashing the short-ball barrage. And to everybody’s surprise, the pitch which had almost renounced its support for the lateral movement, re-incarnated itself into a spring; offering the hard, steep bounce which made Wagner’s work easy while turning the lives of Bangladeshi batsmen into a hell who were left leaping up and down on the pitch to cope up with the treacheries of the Basin Reserve Strip.
“There wasn’t a lot of swing or sideways movement at that point in time and then you want to make the most of the bounce in the surface. It was quite steep. For me it was about trying to utilize that bounce and try to get nicks or a glove,” was Wagner’s explanation for his change of tactics after that fruitless first over.
Wagner’s procession started with the dismissal of Mominul Haque whom he got out through a strangle down the leg-side after troubling him for a fair bit of time with his usual short stuff. A tame inside edge of the willow of Mohammad Mithun was found next in the line but the icing on the cake was the dismissal of Tamim Iqbal, who was literally bounced out after completing his third successive fifty-plus score of the series. A rather soft-dismissal essayed Mahmudullah’s return back to the pavilion as he tried work a back-of-the-length ball towards the leg side but ended up chipping the red cherry towards the de Grandhome at mid-wicket.
Although there was not always a short-ball behind his four dismissals yet the tactics played its part well as it never allowed the Bangladeshi batsmen to settle into their groves. They were always kept on their hooks and when they weren’t vigilant enough for the odd-variation, they paid the hefty price of losing their vigil at the crease. The wickets of Mithun and Mahmudullah corroborate the effectiveness of Wagner’s natural strength of bowling short.
Alien conditions supportive of the pace bowling and the lack of sufficient concentration while playing Wagner, led to the capitulation of the Bangladeshi batting. Liton Das, who was the second highest run-scorer in the Bangladeshi innings, advocated the employment unrelenting concentration while playing a bowler of the calibre of Wagner.
“We know that the short ball will be here, and actually, there is nothing we can do about it. The only thing that can be done is to play him with all our attention, with all our emphasis being on leaving out his deliveries [rather than trying to work it]. We are then probably likely to succeed against him.”
Surely, there is nothing much out-of-the-box stuff needed to play the Wagner style of bowling which has coped its fair share of criticism as unworthy of being in the game’s spirit or that of a bullying tactic but Wagner has stood firm in his resolve to continue backing his strength and that’s required of the batsmen too- back their resolve and deploy full concentration in playing the sponger.
Wagner has a special affinity with the Basin Reserve which reflects in his 25 scalps from his last five Test appearances on the ground at an impressive average of 26 – two points less than his international bowling average. With another Bangladeshi inning remaining in this match and the bounce getting spicy on the pitch, one can expect Wagner to deal the killer-blow again in the second innings.