Neil Wagner, the No.2 ranked Test bowler in the world, has earned himself a name for constantly barraging the batsmen with short deliveries, the back breakers, with success.
The New Zealand seamer, who has an impressive test record of 206 wickets in 48 Test matches at an average of 26.60, and his short balls were the focal point of ICC’s Cricket Inside Out.
In the first episode of Cricket Inside Out, host Elma Smit asked expert panelists, Shaun Pollock and Harsha Bhogle, about why Neil Wagner bowls so many bouncers.
A ball is considered to be a bouncer when it’s pitched on a shorter length and crosses the batsman above his shoulder height.
Neil Wagner’s Bouncer Tactics
Shaun Pollock, the former South African pacer, believed that Wagner has found a game plan that is well suited to him and has consistently managed to execute the plan. An innovative method that also shapes the rest of the bowling line-up.
Pollock explained that the game plan is quite simple for Wagner’s attack. The captain sets the field for a short ball and owing to the fact that batsmen don’t come across such spells that often, they give into the game plan. This is one of the reasons for Wagner’s brilliance and an amazing Test season.
Harsha Bhogle, the cricket analyst spoke in depth about the indispensable nature of Wagner’s bowling to New Zealand Cricket.
Harsha believes that Wagner’s bouncing tactics completes the New Zealand’s bowling attack. Boult swings into the batsman, Southee swings it away from the batsman, and as a batsman if you feel confident with the swinging deliveries, comes in Wagner and bounces the brains off you.
Wagner’s Short Balls during Australia’s Tour 2019-20
In 2019, the Kiwis was toured Australia for a 3 Test match and 3 ODI match series. Although Kangaroos won the Test series by 3-0, the series witnessed some of the best short bowling attack by Neil Wagner.
In Test matches in SENA ( South Africa, England, New Zealand and Australia) countries, pace bowlers are expected to ball consistently for longer duration. Thus, in SENA countries a fast bowler balls around a thousand deliveries during a Test series.
Neil Wagner bowled a total of 945 deliveries on the trans-Tasmanian series, that’s about 50 overs per match.
He used the short delivery to attack the batsmen from different angles and troubled them throughout the series. He has proved time and again that it is nearly impossible to not fall for the trap and he showed the same resilience in this series.
Wagner went head to head with Smith, Warner, Wade and Labuschagne, giving them no chance. He was the 2nd highest wicket taker of the series and out of his 17 wickets, 09 of them came off the short ball.
Wagner was brilliant against the No.1 World Test batsman in particular. Steve Smith averages 71.32 at home, but against Wagner he seemed clueless. He faced 116 deliveries from Wagner and scored just 22 runs and got out to Wagner four times, all short deliveries.
Short Ball Tactic
Bowling a short ball is very taxing, it requires a bit extra effort and the bowler is required to really bend the back to deliver a good short ball. Wagner is an absolute machine. Since January 2018, he has bowled 30% more short balls than his closest competitor Pat Cummins.
More than 50% of his wickets have come from a short or short of a length delivery. He has kept going back to his run up and relentlessly bowled short deliveries throughout his long spells.
The short ball tactic has been used before by few other bowlers as well. Harold Larwood, the English bowler who played from 1924-1932 was nicknamed “The Wrecker” for his bodyline tactic.
The cricket world also came across the West Indies’ fast bowling attack of the 1970s-80s that is still considered to be one of the deadliest bowling line-up. They were known as the four horsemen of death.
Michael Holding was nicknamed as the “Whispering Death” for his quite approach to the crease and “The Hitman” for his deadly bouncers. The West Indies bowling attack of the time bruised several players through the short-ball tactic.
Mitchel Johnson brought back the bodyline tactic and helped Australia win the 2013-14 Ashes series by 5-0. He burst through the crease with murderous intent and delivered dangerous balls consistently clocking 150kmph throughout the series. Johnson was the leading wicket taker with 37 wickets at an unbelievable average of 13.97.
Neil Wagner’s success against Australia in Australia was based on the body line tactic once again. He has troubled the best international batsman such as Steve Smith and Virat Kohli with his skills. He has earned the stripe of one of the best fast bowlers in the business by casting the short ball spell to his opponents.
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