It can be back-breaking to bowl one short ball after another, peppered across 16.2 overs on a relatively warm day. But Neil Wagner has made it his life’s calling to bowl at batsmen’s body, intimidate them, bother them and threaten them eventually into a dismissal. On the first day of the Hamilton Test, his plan worked as he picked 5 for 47, his sixth five-wicket haul in Tests, as Bangladesh fell away from a fine start to be bowled out for 234.
The rewards for Wagner were not immediate, but towards the end of the lunch break, his persistence got him Mominul Haque caught down the leg side. As most bowlers will tell you, one brings two. Immediately after lunch, Mohammad Mithun’s ill-judged hook shot cost him his wicket, while Mahmudullah, Mehidy Hasan and Liton Das all fell to Wagner too.
It might seem over-bearing at times, but when it works, it really works. Wagner’s method is robust and physical, and he said that to keep at it can be difficult. But when the catches are taken, it feels like just reward.
“In Test cricket it’s something that’s been quite successful and worked a little bit,” Wagner said. “It is tough doing it. It’s not easy on the body and obviously you’ve got to keep consistently trying to do it, and on the day it’s got to come off. But credit to all the guys. The catching was phenomenal – the big blue sky like that with a bit of wind around, it takes some serious catching. Our group has been phenomenal at that over the years as well.”
The five-wicket haul came after New Zealand had to endure a superb Tamim Iqbal century, which initially gave Bangladesh the advantage as they went to lunch at 122 for 2. Wagner said that trying to bowl away from Tamim didn’t work, so they had to find other ways to bowl dot balls to him. “We obviously tried to take the ball away from him a little bit. I think he’s obviously quite strong square of the wicket and he showed that even with the ball swinging.
“He played some glorious shots through the covers and square of the wicket so we knew we had to change our plan to him and try to dot him up in a way because he was scoring quite quickly too. He was putting a lot of pressure on us and trying to find a way of getting him off strike and we did that quite well I think and we got the rewards for it.
“I thought Bangladesh batted very well. Tamim obviously batted extremely well and for him to come on a day when you think the ball is going to go round and do a bit, to hit us off our lengths and play as strongly as he did shows obviously the quality of the player and how well he played. He made it quite hard for us and we had to fight hard to get those wickets and get ourselves back into the game. I thought we did that really well.”
Wagner said that conditions vary quickly in New Zealand, which could put a bowler off his rhythm. The last time Bangladesh were in the country, in Wellington two years ago, it was so blustery that Wagner, the fielders and the batsmen had difficulty in standing straight. However, in Hamilton on Thursday, Trent Boult and Tim Southee found little movement in the air and they had to change their plans to get the Bangladesh batsmen out.
“Conditions are so different in New Zealand. If there is less wind or more wind or if the sun is out, there’s a big blue [sky], or if there’s a bit of moisture around, if it’s humid it can swing around,” Wagner said. “It didn’t really do as much today as we thought it would and the wicket obviously played a lot better than we thought it would play.
“So there’s wasn’t as much movement but it showed the quality of the group as well to assess that and get ourselves back in the game. I thought we did that really well and obviously got the rewards for it.”
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo’s Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84
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