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IND vs NZ | Christchurch Day 2 Talking Points - India’s SENA masterclass and Neil Wagner’s dilemma

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IND vs NZ | Christchurch Day 2 Talking Points - India’s SENA masterclass and Neil Wagner’s dilemma

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Anirudh Suresh

03/01/2020

In what was one of the best days of Test cricket in recent memory, India and New Zealand battled out a gripping day to set up what looks like an enthralling finale on Day 3. A total of 16 wickets fell on a day where ball dominated bat, with India ending the day on 90/6, leading the hosts by 97 runs.

India’s ‘five-star’ morning marks completion of SENA schooling

The morning of Day 2 marked the completion of Indian bowlers schooling each of their SENA counterparts in their own backyard. India had already outbowled and schooled the Australian, English and South African bowlers in the last 24 months and today, it was their turn to school the New Zealand bowlers. Despite having five pacers in their ranks, at no point on Day 1 did the Kiwi bowlers get their lines right or dictate terms. Their inaccuracy and inability to figure out the right ploy on an extremely helpful wicket even made the pitch, at times, look good for batting.

The Indian bowlers erred for 23 overs towards the end of Day 1 but they cracked the Christchurch code overnight and so on Day 2, they strode onto the field with one primary goal in their minds - to tame the Kiwi batsmen and school their bowlers. And they did exactly that, by pulling the length a tad back and exploiting the movement off the wicket. The tone was set early on by the pairing of Umesh and Bumrah - who conceded just six runs and accounted for two wickets in the first 26 balls of the day - who then passed the baton to Shami. The trio were flawless and despite the ball doing all sorts - both off the pitch and in the air - they displayed impeccable control and bamboozled the Kiwi batsmen with consistent, simple yet effective bowling - something that the hosts failed to do on Day 1. 

Perhaps, this is the very reason why the Indian pace quartet is widely regarded as the best in the world. Their astonishing ability to adapt to conditions within a blink of an eye is second to none. 

BJ Watling and Henry Nicholls - not so underrated

Numbers can be deceptive and, often, judging players purely based on stats without taking a deeper delve into them can be misleading. A better metric to judge the true quality of players can be to evaluate how they’ve performed under pressure and versus the big guns - they tend to separate the best from the rest. Between January 2017 and November 2019, the duo Henry Nicholls and BJ Watling scored over 1000 runs and averaged over 45 in Tests. These ludicrous numbers led to them being considered amongst the best, albeit South Africa (at home) being the only ‘big’ team they faced in this period.  

Since December 2019, though, up against Australia and India, Nicholls and Watling have averaged just 15.33 and 14.87 with the bat with no fifty-plus score to their names, combinedly, in 14 innings. The duo, today in Christchurch, had a golden opportunity to make amends for their shortcomings, yet just like every occasion in the past, they failed to live up to the expectations (and their reputation). At no point in their innings did it feel like they were supposed ‘core members’ of the side. To put it harshly, the two seemed like mere pushovers who were not skilled or determined enough to get the job done for their team when it mattered the most. 

That they have been out-batted by de Grandhomme and Jamieson in both Tests is a telling revelation in itself. Perhaps it’s time that New Zealand start demanding more from their senior players than just being content with them stat-padding versus the smaller teams.

Neil Wagner on a green track is a lost man

Is Neil Wagner a one-trick pony who is only of use when the wicket is dead and toothless? Nah, that is a bit too harsh. Is Neil Wagner a lost soul who does not know what to do when the pitch is spicy and not flat? Well, if evidence from the 18 overs he’s bowled in Christchurch is anything to go by, you can very well make a case for it. Because, throughout the course of this Test, that’s exactly what Wagner has looked like - an odd man out who looks lost in a wicket where help for bowlers is aplenty. 

On dead Australian wickets, and in the flat wickets in the series against England that preceded it, Wagner’s plan was crystal clear: keep tirelessly bowling short balls towards the batsman’s body and wait for him to err. Here at the Hagley oval, he’s often been caught in two minds, whether to stick to his go-to short ball ploy or just try and get the batsman out the conventional way. This dilemma has also resulted in Wagner not going in whole-heartedly with his ‘go for the kill with the short ball’ approach, something that he religiously did in the games against Australia and England. He has, instead, dished out a lot of gentle half-volleys, good-length balls and sometimes even full-tosses, thus rendering him ineffective. 

Dare I say, he’s been an easy customer to deal with for the Indians. That Williamson has used him as the fifth choice seamer behind de Grandhomme hasn’t helped his confidence, either. 

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