BANGLADESH TOUR OF NEW ZEALAND, 2019
How to play Neil Wagner’s short deliveries? Don’t ask Bangladesh. © Getty
The first two days of the Wellington Test were complete washouts. There were puddles everywhere and the only ones in whites were ducks and seagulls. Yet, anticipation was high going into Day 3. You see, there are few things that generate more excitement among cricket fans than a green pitch. And this wasn’t just a pitch with a tinge of green; rather, it was mostly grass-cover with some pitch underneath.
Only around a couple of months back, Sri Lanka had staged the most unlikely of great escapes in Wellington through an epic partnership between Angelo Mathews and Kusal Mendis that lasted 655 balls. The dryness of the 22-yards had come in for a bit of criticism back then. Unfortunately for Bangladesh, they came in the way of the curator’s shot at redemption.
Adding onto their misfortune, they even lost the toss and were put into bat, with both captains agreeing that that was the only smart option. Now, if you had got a glimpse of the pitch before play began, and not followed any of the action thereafter, you’d have thought that a first-innings score of 211 wasn’t the worst effort by Bangladesh.
Thing is, it wasn’t the seaming ball that got them into trouble as was the expectation. Trent Boult and Tim Southee hardly found much with the new ball in their opening spells, so much so that Tamim Iqbal even got the visitors off to a bit of a flier. Strikingly, he drove good length balls on the up through cover and point, not something you’d do when there is movement on offer. Now granted, Boult and Southee weren’t at their best, but bowlers of their calibre – there’s a limit to the extent of how bad they can be. So why didn’t they get a whole lot out of the surface, it’s anybody’s guess. Maybe it was too cold to move around, who knows.
Fact of the matter is that Bangladesh were off to a start. They were 75/0 before Colin de Grandhomme – the most threatening bowler at this point – got his reward, finding Shadman Islam’s outside edge with a gentle nibbling good length delivery. A perfectly standard dismissal on a green pitch, no issues.
But what followed, starting from around 15 minutes before lunch through the entire middle session, left a lot to be desired from Bangladesh. As mentioned above, it wasn’t the seaming ball that got them. Instead, it was Neil Wagner who blasted through their batting line-up with short-pitched bowling, which had little to do with the pitch.
You expect that kind of bowling from Wagner, he’s done it over the last 3-4 years. But you also expect the opposition to come up with some kind of ploy to counter it. Either you pull with conviction, or you duck. Or, if you’re so willing, take them on the body.
But no, what Bangladesh did was to try and stand up to those short balls, looking to ride the bounce. That’s the worst thing you can do when the pitch has some pace and extra bounce in it, which this one did. In Wagner’s four-wicket burst, three of them (Mominul Haque, Mohammad Mithun, Mahmudullah) were brought about by batsmen looking to fend deliveries that climbed and got too big on them.
There were two dismissals off miscued pull shots (Tamim and Soumya Sarkar), which were such half-hearted attempts that there couldn’t have been any real belief of executing them properly in the first place.
”We know that the short ball will be here, and actually, there is nothing we can do about it,” wicketkeeper-batsman Liton Das summed it up almost helplessly after the third day’s play. “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,” he continued, coming from a place of great despair.
Yet somehow, even after the inept batting performance, there was genuine hope once Bangladesh’s new ball bowlers were done with their opening spells to close out the day. Abu Jayed and Ebadat Hossain, both fairly medium-pace and of slim built, managed to get more out of the pitch with the shiny red cherry than what their much more esteemed counterparts had done. They put it in the right areas, got it to misbehave and soon had New Zealand at 8/2. Bangladesh were in the game.
It wasn’t just a pitch with a tinge of green; rather, it was mostly grass-cover with some pitch underneath. © Getty
It was clear from the outset, the moment Ross Taylor came into bat, he wasn’t going to die wondering. He was intent on the counter-punch. And his partnership with Kane Williamson was going to shape the course of the outcome. The first ball Taylor faced, a full one outside off, was flayed through to the cover boundary. His third one, an overpitched offering, met the same fate. This was a contest. Bangladesh’s bowlers didn’t deter. They started the fourth morning on a positive note, getting the ball to talk. And then came that Abu Jayed over which changed everything.
In a space of three deliveries, Taylor was dropped twice on 20. An uppish drive to the left of short cover, pretty much a sitter, put down by captain Mahmudullah, followed by a genuine outside edge low to the left of second slip, a harder chance, shelled by Shadman Islam. That was it. Bangladesh never recovered.
If ever there was a tangible showcase of what a dropped catch does to a team’s morale, this was it. It was quite bizarre to watch as the Bangladesh bowlers lost all their discipline from that point on. They bowled short and wide, gave gentle half-volleys and soon enough, the whole team had plummeted into such a defeatist attitude that Taylor even started taking the aerial route. All this on a pitch where the ball was still doing enough. By lunch on Day 4, Taylor and Williamson had run away with the game. They say there are no easy runs in Test cricket. Well, Henry Nicholls got as close to an easy century as it gets against a team that had given up the fight long back.
“We wanted to be positive because we always knew there was a ball with your name on it. Had a bit of luck. We had the heavy roller on this morning which added a bit of juice to it. I think they bowled really well in the first 6-7 overs, Kane and I were jumping around a bit. They bowled in the channel and put us under pressure,” Taylor said after an emotional 200, in which he went past Martin Crowe’s tally of 17 hundreds.
If all it took for the Bangladesh bowlers to lose hope on a green pitch were two dropped catches, there has to be something wrong with the psyche. They’re mistaking Test cricket for something else. It is an area that bowling coach Courtney Walsh will have his hands full addressing.
Not much improvement with the bat for Bangladesh the second time around too. They tried to change things up by adopting a more attacking approach to the short ball, but the execution was greatly flawed and Wagner wasn’t to be denied. Boult made amends for his underwhelming display in the first innings as well, and the formalities were quickly wrapped up in the first session of the final day.
This was grim from Bangladesh at the Basin Reserve, losing the match in well under three days. Granted they didn’t have their two best players in Mushfiqur Rahim and Shakib Al Hasan, but this is modern-day cricket where such situations often arise. They needed to cope with it. But they didn’t. Bangladesh might be a force at home in whites, but their overseas credentials need improving and how.