Much was spoken about Ishant Sharma’s six-wicket haul in the first innings, the first time he had reached the milestone since July 2011. In all the excitement, Neil Wagner’s eight-wicket match haul seemed to have passed under the radar.
Ishant averaged 18 runs per wicket (9 for 162) over the game, but Wagner got each of his eight wickets for a more impressive 15.7 runs. The difference was that Wagner remained a threat through the match while Sharma was good in bursts, especially in the second half of the game. The difference in the first innings scores proved decisive in the match.
While the 27-year-old South African born Wagner and the 25-year-old Sharma bowl at much the same pace, there seems to be a gulf in terms of their consistency. Both were used by their captains as first change, and the plan for Ishant and Wagner was to plug the flow of runs and exploit the pressure that had already been building.
In the first innings, Ishant started well, without having a boundary scored off his first seven overs, picking two wickets. Once Kane Williamson and Brendon McCullum settled down, Sharma’s radar went haywire. His next three overs had four boundaries, bowling too short and wide. He returned after a break, sending down four overs for just four runs, again keeping it straight.
Ishant’s third spell was where he really let the advantage slip. A succession of weak, mis-directed bouncers ensured easy pickings for the New Zealand batsmen. He conceded 18 boundaries and three sixes in his 33.4 overs, with 40 percent of the boundaries coming via the gentle short balls that he served up.
Wagner, by contrast, exhibited painstaking discipline. Often bowling to a six-three field, the 27-year-old stuck to a line just outside off, using his natural out-swinger to trouble the batsmen. Bowling to similar fields, Ishant conceded 70 runs on the on-side. Wagner gave just 19.
While Ishant’s much maligned bouncers did more harm than good, Wagner used it as a surprise weapon — Shikhar Dhawan’s dismissal a case in example.
Importantly, while Ishant continued to leak runs at the rate of four an over in the first innings, Wagner combined well with his pacers to plug the scoring. His eight maidens allowed pressure to be built up, which helped Trent Boult and Tim Southee too.
(Chinmay is staff reporter based in Pune)