This month’s ball of the century was bowled during the First Test between Australia and New Zealand, when Neil Wagner bowled a short ball that hit Matthew Wade on the body.
Usually I choose a specific delivery to award as the ball of the century for any given month, but there seems to be little point in doing so here. Virtually every ball Wagner bowled to Wade in the twilight of the day/night Test in Adelaide struck the former Australian wicketkeeper on the body.
This may not seem all that unusual. After all, the prospect of small, hard projectiles being propelled in your direction from 22 yards away at a velocity approaching a hundred miles per hour is all part of the job description for modern cricketers. Although, admittedly, a part of the job description that’s usually obfuscated by frustrating corporate jargon. ‘You will be a self-starter and team player with a can-do attitude, looking for run-making opportunities as you navigate the challenges of a results-orientated, fast-paced environment.’
If that was Wade’s job description when he applied for the coveted role of ‘Aussie Mongrel Provider (Good Old-Fashioned)’, then his performance review might have had a few question marks on it.
Not on the Key Result Area of ‘Swearing at the opposition’, of course. Tim Paine would have put a check mark in the ‘Exceeded Expectations’ box for that one. And Wade’s ‘Make useful, bloody-minded runs’ KRA would also probably have received an ‘Acceptable’ at the very least.
But the core competency of ‘Avoid being hit by a cricket ball’? Surely Paine would have had to summon Wade into his office, close the door quietly behind him, before asking him to please, take a seat, we need to have a chat.
And if that’s how it went down, I hope Wade then explained that he’s (expletive deleted) turning the entire (expletive deleted) sport on its (expletive doubly deleted because it’s so rude) head and it’s about time everybody else got behind him, for (expletive deleted)’s sake.
Wagner is currently the number three ranked bowler in the world, and yet in the Adelaide Test, Wade found a brilliantly cunning way to negate the formidable short-pitched bowling on which the New Zealand quick has built his success.
In fairness, one could point out that Wagner’s effectiveness in the Test was diminished by the fact that Lockie Ferguson had been forced out of the game early with a carelessly non-concussion-based injury. The Ferguson mishap left New Zealand a bowler short, a team limitation that Wagner seemed to take as a curiously personal challenge.
But if Wagner was hindered by the increased bowling workload caused by the injury of a teammate it should also be pointed out that so, too, was Wade. Because when Josh Hazlewood also opted out of the Test series, it was Wade who stepped up for Australia with the ball.
In numerical terms, Wade may not have bowled as many extra overs as Wagner did. But compared to expectations at the start of the Test, Wade shouldered an infinitely greater proportional burden. So it evens out.
The 10 v 10 match that the Test swiftly became should therefore not have unfairly impacted either participant in the Wade v Wagner match-up that we’re examining here. (Although it should certainly have got the ECB brains trust talking. Teams made up of only ten players fits so seamlessly within the branding of The Hundred that it seems shocking it hasn’t already been adopted. After all, a ’10 x 10 = The Hundred’ marketing campaign is there for the taking. It’s enticing and mathematically accurate.)
Nevertheless, regardless of the future decimalisation of cricket that is the long-term goal of any true cricket fan, the topic at hand here remains Wade’s technique for dealing with Wagner’s short-pitched bowling.
It’s an almost trivial solution, as all such breakthroughs inevitably are in retrospect.
Simply don’t play shots to the short stuff. Let it hit you on the body instead. In fact, go one step further. Lean into the short ball and allow it to strike you on the chest. Stare unblinkingly back at the bowler as you do so, so that he becomes convinced you are a criminally insane individual, capable of almost any atrocity.
It’s not a ploy for everybody, of course. But in the hands of a master like Wade, it can clearly be deliriously successful.
Especially when Wade’s heroic refusal to wield his bat at anything Wagner bowled was sufficient to briefly hypnotise the umpires into giving him leg byes whenever the ball deflected off his body and wide of a fielder.
One can only assume that the umpires initially reasoned that nobody would allow a cricket ball to be bowled at them without an attempt to hit it or avoid it. And, since Wade self-evidently didn’t attempt to hit it, he therefore must have attempted to avoid it.
This perfectly sound application of logic allowed Wade to accumulate several leg byes before the umpires double-checked the axioms underlying their deductions and began dead-balling him.
But runs, even in the form of leg byes, were never Wade’s goal. His goal was to instead be struck on the body so often that Wagner lost all confidence in his most potent weapon. Like some kind of masochistic succubus, every bruise that Wade sustained
improbably empowered him while simultaneously deflating the bowler. It’s magnificent, in its own, incredibly dumb way.
Can anybody stop Wade’s unparalleled ability to be hit by a cricket ball? Perhaps. But only if a ruthless enough captain chooses to counter Wade’s masochism by instructing his bowlers to attack the stick he has in his hand instead. Is it possible for the leader of an international cricket team to be so pitiless? Do such remorseless and accurate bowlers exist? I predict that we will soon find out, if Wade – the Bradman of body blows – continues to prove so unstoppable.
All the various December, 2019 Balls of the Century are just the beginning, people. Brace yourselves for the horrors of Batline.
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