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Indian pacers not as good as Neil Wagner with the short ball, says Steve Smith

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Steve Smith said that Neil Wagner is patient and consistent with his short ball approach, which might be very difficult to replicate for the Indian bowlers.

If Jasprit Bumrah & Co plan to get rid of Steve Smith with short deliveries, they may have to target the area between Smith’s shoulder and ribs for a significantly long period and vary the pace of the deliveries al la New Zealand pace bowler Neil Wagner who troubled the Australian batter last summer, dismissing him four out of five times in three Tests.

Ahead of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, Smith, on Tuesday, threw down the gauntlet at the Indian bowlers, saying that the area Wagner targets may not be possible for Indian bowlers because of his unique ability to use short deliveries with speed variations and for a long time.

“He (Wagner) is really patient with them. He is able to do that all day. There are not too many quick bowlers that can run in and bowl bouncers the whole day. I guess the way Neil does is that he is particularly special. He gets balls between shoulder and rib high. He is incredibly accurate. And then he has an ability to change his pace,” said Smith to a question from IANS on why he thinks Indian pacers, led by Bumrah, would not be able to trouble him with bouncers as Wagner would.

“It is one of the hardest things that guys, not just me but some of the other guys as well, coped with last year. He bowled one ball at 135, the next ball would be at 128, the next ball would be at 130 and 135. It was tough to get a rhythm because his short balls were coming out at different pace. I think he has a pretty unique set of skills, the way he does it. He has done to, not just me, but to plenty of different batsmen around the world,” he added.

The Australian run-machine’s struggle last year against Wagner was reminiscent of what Don Bradman faced during the bodyline series of 1932-33 when the English tried the leg-side trap to Bradman, continuously targeting him with short balls at the body.

Just like Bradman then, Smith still managed to pick some runs — 214 runs at an average of 42.8 with two half-centuries, though he couldn’t play big knocks.

Smith added that Wagner’s skills at using the short ball can’t be matched by anyone as the Kiwi has picked majority of his wickets from that.

“He (Wagner) is the number two Test bowler at the moment or something like that (number three behind Pat Cummins and Stuart Broad; Bumrah is the best Indian at number nine). I think you look at Neil Wagner’s career, the way he bowls, you see the majority of wickets he has got are from short-pitched bowling – with the way they set the field up. And he is the number two bowler for a reason. I mean that is what he does, yeah, it means he is different to what anyone tries to do it. It (others’ bowling) is not the same as Neil does. (He) Possesses a set of skills that not many do and he does that for a very long time,” Smith said.

One of Wagner’s strengths is the angle he gets from round the wicket as a left-armer, making it difficult for right-handed batsmen. The Indian bowling unit lacks a left-arm pacer, so if they are going to use the short deliveries and target the area between shoulder and ribs, they may have to be very accurate as Smith alludes while praising Wagner. Otherwise, Smith having a habit of moving to the off could have a field day if the Indians get waver.

Bumrah could be the man targeted to trouble Smith with short deliveries. He used the delivery well during the recent Indian Premier League, getting rid of players like Virat Kohli and Andre Russell.

Smith says that this kind of talk, others preying on his short-ball weakness, gives him confidence.

“Yeah, people can go for that. In a way, it is a kind of flattery, if people try to get me out (off short balls) because they’ve exhausted all other options. Gives me a lot of confidence to know that,” he added.

Smith also said that Test cricket allows a batsman to form partnership unlike limited overs cricket, meaning that even if you are barraged with short balls you can wait.

“It is Test cricket. That is the beauty of it. You can form partnerships for as long as you can do. So if I can take that kind of approach, then great. I managed to do that (against New Zealand),” he added. “While I had some contribution, my strike rate was down.”

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