There is little doubt that the New Zealand fast bowlers, particularly Neil Wagner, will use the short ball against the Bangladesh batsmen throughout the Test series, and the major talking point on the tour now centers around the visiting batsmen’s plans to cope with it.
Having tried it successfully in Hamilton, Wagner brought out the short-length attack once more in Wellington, where play finally began on the third day, and the left-arm quick had first-innings returns of 4 for 28 off 13 overs. So far, across the two Tests, only Tamim Iqbal has tackled the short ball well, while Mahmudullah and Soumya Sarkar confronted it properly only on the fourth day in Hamilton. In Wellington, however, all three batsmen fell while trying to attack the short ball. Wagner dismissed Tamim and Mahmudullah, although neither delivery rose too high.
Bangladesh wicketkeeper Liton Das, who made 33 off 49 balls, said he preferred to generally leave the short ball, as there is very little he could do about it.
“We get out despite knowing what the swinging new ball will do,” Liton said. “We still nick it sometimes while trying to play forward. Similarly, we know that [Wagner] will bowl short and against that you have very little to do. Sometimes the only way to tackle him is by leaving the deliveries. If we can focus more against him and leave him more, it might help us.”
Wagner, on the other hand, preferred the batsmen ducking or leaving the short ball, stating that when Bangladesh attacked his short deliveries, there was greater chance of runs being scored fairly quickly.
“It opens up a lot of opportunities to go for runs as well. If they do play it well they can get away so you don’t want to leak runs,” Wagner said. “If you want to do it you’ve got to be patient and consistent, and ask tough questions, while creating that doubt in their footwork and making them think about it.
“If they start ducking or swaying out of it I think I’ve got a chance, and if they do play it well like they did in the second innings [in Hamilton] then you don’t want to leak runs and it becomes quite costly. It all depends on conditions and it all depends on what we do as a team, what our decision is.”
Bangladesh were most successful against the short ball on the fourth day during the Hamilton Test, but that happened when they mixed caution with aggression. Mahmudullah and Soumya ducked and weaved away from the line of the short ball for most of the first hour, but when they did play the pull shot, inside the line mostly, it was hard to stop them from scoring runs.
Both ended up scoring hundreds, after pushing Kane Williamson to move his fielders around from catching to run-saving positions. Wagner, however, said that if the Bangladesh batsmen kept being aggressive, New Zealand could get lucky with shots hit in the air going to fielders rather than falling in gaps.
“They showed in the whole series that they’re going to be aggressive, so there’s sometimes a bit of luck that comes into that as well,” he said. “There were a couple of balls that went through, edges that went through the slip cordon or gully sort of area, which on any other day can go to a fielder’s hand as well.
“We were a little bit unlucky with things like that, and that can sometimes get away on you. Just with the way they played, they came out positive and so you’re going to go for a couple of runs but I thought we pulled it back nicely at the end of the day.”
Wagner said he ignored criticism about his style of bowling, and questions on New Zealand’s use of the short-ball tactic.
“I don’t really care about that, to be honest. I don’t think about it too much,” he said. “I’ve got a role to do for the team and for me it’s to contribute for the team and do what I need to and whatever comes on the days, what’s asked of me to do I just do to the best of my ability.”