By Niall Anderson in Sydney
Neil Wagner’s success against Australian star Steve Smith has been nearly four years in the making.
The Black Caps bowler has dismissed Smith in all four innings of the Black Caps’ two tests in Australia, and the fiery seamer revealed that the spark behind his successful plans came back in February 2016, the last time the Black Caps took on Australia in a test.
In that match, Smith took the game away from the Black Caps, who had performed solidly with the bat, making 370 and 335 at Hagley Oval.
However, they had no answers for Smith, who made 138 in the first innings, and an unbeaten 53 in the second to guide Australia to a seven-wicket win.
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It was Wagner who dismissed Smith in the first innings, with a bouncer that was pulled to the square leg fielder, and that’s where he began to formulate the idea which would be so successful nearly four years later.
“That game in Christchurch a few years ago, he scored a lot of runs against us and he hurt us, he took that game away from us. That plan started back then and was something that was in the mind coming over here, to try and dry him up and stop him from scoring,” Wagner said.
Wagner hasn’t had it all his own way – Smith has still made 151 runs in his four innings – but by setting a heavy legside field and attacking Smith’s body, they’ve made it difficult for Smith to score quick runs, and frustrated Australia’s star batsman.
Smith admitted “there’s not a whole lot you can do” when facing the fields, and Wagner said it was the best tactic to try and restrict the man who averages 62.8.
“I’ve always watched Steve, I admire him as a player – he’s a freak to be honest, he’s just such a good batsman.
“When you pitch it up and it doesn’t swing, and there’s not much movement, he seems to dictate the game a little bit and can take the game away from you. Ultimately it’s about making sure he doesn’t hurt you too much – scoring all over the ground – but also to try and get him out.
“To be able to get a guy like that out gets you in a really good position to hopefully get in a strong position in the test to land some blows to put some pressure on Australia.”
Smith’s dismissal has opened the door for the Black Caps to pounce more than once in the series, but they haven’t been able to capitalise to truly put Australia under that sought-after pressure, something that has left Wagner frustrated.
“We’ve done it at times, but every time someone else has stepped up for Australia and played a massive part to get them back in the game.
“Hopefully we can keep putting that pressure on and get those wickets in clumps, and with the bat, hopefully we can do what Australia’s been doing, and when we do lose those couple of wickets, someone can put their hand up and get a partnership or some runs on the board.
“We’ve got the team to do it, we’ve played some really good cricket within the past few years. Unfortunately we haven’t been able to show that in the last two test matches – but I’ve got big faith in our group that we can come out fighting.”