New Zealand v India, 1st Test, Auckland, 4th day February 9, 2014

Neil Wagner, from stock bowler to NZ's game changer

Neil Wagner is a third seamer who takes his role to heart. Against India on Sunday, he added another dimension to that role, producing a match-turning performance
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This was the day the workhorse outran the thoroughbreds, while still carrying his usual heavy load. The day the desk guy outshone the star anchors at the channel. The day Neil Wagner was the stock bowler as well as the strike bowler for New Zealand.

Brendon McCullum wanted someone to keep things tight. Wagner was the man. McCullum wanted a threatening partnership broken. Wagner was the man. McCullum wanted the opposition's top-scorer. Wagner was the man. McCullum wanted someone to finish the game before it got too close. Wagner was the man. Tim Southee and Trent Boult, hotshots both, for one day you have to cede centrestage, despite your admirable roles in New Zealand's win.

Not that Wagner particularly loves the centrestage. The man is a captain's delight. He will do the dirty job of bowling over after over on a hot afternoon so that the star strikers can have a breather. He will pound in with the old ball as long as McCullum wants him to so that Southee and Boult can be kept fresh for the new ball. There will be nothing eye-catching about his numbers at the end of the day, but that will not stop him from doing it all over again next afternoon.

Wagner is the third seamer, and he takes his role to heart. The combination can be pretty difficult to find, for who does not love the limelight? Which is why it was heartwarming to see Wagner's labours being rewarded with big wickets for once and not just a pat on the back from the captain.

Wagner had begun last evening with a spell of 6-2-11-0, giving almost nothing away. He was brought on after just two overs of Boult in the morning with Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli in control. His spell read 7-3-18-0, during which he almost had Kohli, who drove in the air and fortunately managed to hit the small gap between the two short covers in place.

After lunch, Kohli went after the young legspinner Ish Sodhi, who also conceded 18 in an over to Dhawan. India had moved to 218 for 2 when McCullum summoned Wagner to replace Sodhi. Wagner went on to turn the match around with a spell of 10-3-26-2. Although Kohli went after a wide one, Dhawan got a brute. When you have a batsman on 115 hopping and fending, your bouncer has really done something. Wagner's roars after those dismissals, his face glistening with sweat, were a sight to watch. Not only had he ensured Boult and Southee had a break before the second new ball, he had also ensured they would charge in to new batsmen.

Wagner wasn't done for the day. McCullum had more use for him when MS Dhoni and Zaheer Khan had taken India to within 60 runs of victory. Two overs were all Wagner needed. Over one, Zaheer. Over two, Dhoni. Game over.

McCullum showered praise on his fast bowler, especially for that ten-over spell that took out Kohli and Dhawan. "He epitomises everything we want to be known for as a team, how aggressive he is, how hostile he is when he has got ball in hand and how big his heart is as well," McCullum said. "He bowled 10 overs into the wind late on day four which is no easy feat and it allowed Tim and Trent to have some decent downtime leading into that new ball.

"He has bowled like that for us now for 12-18 months and he hasn't always got the rewards but he has been an integral part of a jigsaw that we talk about as well. It was just nice today for a guy like that to get the rewards as well and the accolades that follow. So I cannot talk highly enough of him. Obviously Trent and Tim are our spearheads but Neil Wagner is such an important piece of the puzzle for us.

"He never wants an opportunity to pass him by. His role is to bowl a lot of overs, and hostile overs. [He] gives Tim and Trent an opportunity to attack. He has thoroughly deserved his wickets. He has turned this game."

Turned the game he did indeed. What a man to have in your team. Neil Wagner. Stock bowler. Strike bowler. Game changer.

Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • RC72 on February 11, 2014, 8:14 GMT

    I was at the ground on Sunday. Wagner was like the terminator, he just kept coming hard at the batsman all day, as he has done all season. Great to see him get the recognition he deserves.

  • on February 11, 2014, 1:01 GMT

    agent 001 get some glasses. ..that was not lbw as the ball hit the bat first...I could even see that in normal speed. ..umpire made huge mistake. ..if only the indians had the referral system in place. you might have won that test. ...any way well played nz and more of the same please for the second test. ..send them home with their tails between their legs!

  • IndianInnerEdge on February 10, 2014, 11:58 GMT

    Wagner was awesome, showed real fighting never say die attitude, kept running in and pounding in all day....terrific, for me he was the real man of the match....what a match, am disappointed as an indian fan, but no disgrace in loosing like this as long as u give it your all....well done to NZ, kudos to india, all in all this should be a good series.....who says test cricket is dying ....auckland test was fantastic, fought in great spirits, in the way it shoiuld be played, kudos to both teams....

  • on February 10, 2014, 11:53 GMT

    The Dhoni dismissal was a tactical play as told by Marty Crowe. The Kiwis put a deep point in so Dhoni hooked. and played on.

    Re Dharwan it was clear he was tiring. So Wagner shook him up with the bouncer and snaffled him. Jadeja threw his wicket away as did Kohli.

    Rohit Sharma was done right by a Southee away cutter right after the break - great slips catch by Taylor by the way, world class. New Zealand played a better tactical game. Remember we are pretty good at defending small totals (ODI experience).

  • EdStainsby on February 10, 2014, 9:40 GMT

    For me, it was just a matter of time before Wagner turned in a match winning performance for the Black Caps. His first class record has been outstanding since he has played in New Zealand. That's not always a guarantee of success at Test level, admittedly, but I've always felt that there is enough of the strike bowler about him to turn a Test match - rather than just chip in while others earned the glory. Not many bowlers achieve 5 wickets in an over in First Class level, and towards the end of the year he was in the top 10 Test wicket takers for 2013. Ultimately I'm just really pleased for Wagner because, as well as being a fine bowler and a great competitor, he is a great guy and a real team player.

  • SameOld on February 10, 2014, 7:11 GMT

    About time Wagner got some credit (& some wickets, which tend to bring plaudits along with them). He's done a great job without much luck for a while now. Baz's ultra-aggressive field settings hit Wagner's stats pretty hard, & unless he keeps taking bags of wickets, this will continue to be the case. No matter, Wagner will keep running in & giving his all anyway.

    Wagner bowling those long spells allows NZ to effectively play Anderson AND Sodhi as batting allrounders while they work out how to bowl at this level. Such a huge luxury for a captain, Baz must be loving it.

    The best thing about this performance by Wagner is that he still didn't have a lot of luck. He bowled at least 8 to 12 balls that Dhawan had no clue about, but just missed or edged down. And don't be fooled: His dismissals of both Kohli and Dhoni were not lucky half-trackers, but exquisitely executed sucker balls that these world-class players fell for hook, line & sinker.

    Great stuff, Mr Wagner! Keep it coming

  • Mindmaker on February 10, 2014, 6:59 GMT

    India can take out all the positives they want out of the match but kudos to the Black Caps for taking the result. For me, that is all that matters. Thank you for taking down one of the Big Three bullies.

    It is a pity India has a bully cricket board because the Indian team has very likeable guys who play very good cricket. Its really sad that they have to work for such a board.

    Now for South Africa to do the same to the next bully... All the small guys will be routing for you, Proteas. Go give it to them.

  • MyOpinion on February 10, 2014, 4:57 GMT

    It is nothing new India always make a potential player to a superstar in the matter of a series (ex: Haddin, A flower, to most recent de kock, KW, now Wagner).

  • agent001 on February 10, 2014, 3:23 GMT

    The slow motion LBW of Ajinka Rehane with that first ball of the second new ball shows the bat miles away from the ball. How did the bat register a spot on hot spot. Totally unreliable technology. Umpire Davis may have been correct on that decision and may be the bat rubbed against the pad to have picked up that spot. Check it out !

  • dinosaurus on February 9, 2014, 23:41 GMT

    India are just one match away from the kind of tour that England have just experienced in Australia. Northern hemisphere teams just haven't enjoyed the "down under" summer.

  • RC72 on February 11, 2014, 8:14 GMT

    I was at the ground on Sunday. Wagner was like the terminator, he just kept coming hard at the batsman all day, as he has done all season. Great to see him get the recognition he deserves.

  • on February 11, 2014, 1:01 GMT

    agent 001 get some glasses. ..that was not lbw as the ball hit the bat first...I could even see that in normal speed. ..umpire made huge mistake. ..if only the indians had the referral system in place. you might have won that test. ...any way well played nz and more of the same please for the second test. ..send them home with their tails between their legs!

  • IndianInnerEdge on February 10, 2014, 11:58 GMT

    Wagner was awesome, showed real fighting never say die attitude, kept running in and pounding in all day....terrific, for me he was the real man of the match....what a match, am disappointed as an indian fan, but no disgrace in loosing like this as long as u give it your all....well done to NZ, kudos to india, all in all this should be a good series.....who says test cricket is dying ....auckland test was fantastic, fought in great spirits, in the way it shoiuld be played, kudos to both teams....

  • on February 10, 2014, 11:53 GMT

    The Dhoni dismissal was a tactical play as told by Marty Crowe. The Kiwis put a deep point in so Dhoni hooked. and played on.

    Re Dharwan it was clear he was tiring. So Wagner shook him up with the bouncer and snaffled him. Jadeja threw his wicket away as did Kohli.

    Rohit Sharma was done right by a Southee away cutter right after the break - great slips catch by Taylor by the way, world class. New Zealand played a better tactical game. Remember we are pretty good at defending small totals (ODI experience).

  • EdStainsby on February 10, 2014, 9:40 GMT

    For me, it was just a matter of time before Wagner turned in a match winning performance for the Black Caps. His first class record has been outstanding since he has played in New Zealand. That's not always a guarantee of success at Test level, admittedly, but I've always felt that there is enough of the strike bowler about him to turn a Test match - rather than just chip in while others earned the glory. Not many bowlers achieve 5 wickets in an over in First Class level, and towards the end of the year he was in the top 10 Test wicket takers for 2013. Ultimately I'm just really pleased for Wagner because, as well as being a fine bowler and a great competitor, he is a great guy and a real team player.

  • SameOld on February 10, 2014, 7:11 GMT

    About time Wagner got some credit (& some wickets, which tend to bring plaudits along with them). He's done a great job without much luck for a while now. Baz's ultra-aggressive field settings hit Wagner's stats pretty hard, & unless he keeps taking bags of wickets, this will continue to be the case. No matter, Wagner will keep running in & giving his all anyway.

    Wagner bowling those long spells allows NZ to effectively play Anderson AND Sodhi as batting allrounders while they work out how to bowl at this level. Such a huge luxury for a captain, Baz must be loving it.

    The best thing about this performance by Wagner is that he still didn't have a lot of luck. He bowled at least 8 to 12 balls that Dhawan had no clue about, but just missed or edged down. And don't be fooled: His dismissals of both Kohli and Dhoni were not lucky half-trackers, but exquisitely executed sucker balls that these world-class players fell for hook, line & sinker.

    Great stuff, Mr Wagner! Keep it coming

  • Mindmaker on February 10, 2014, 6:59 GMT

    India can take out all the positives they want out of the match but kudos to the Black Caps for taking the result. For me, that is all that matters. Thank you for taking down one of the Big Three bullies.

    It is a pity India has a bully cricket board because the Indian team has very likeable guys who play very good cricket. Its really sad that they have to work for such a board.

    Now for South Africa to do the same to the next bully... All the small guys will be routing for you, Proteas. Go give it to them.

  • MyOpinion on February 10, 2014, 4:57 GMT

    It is nothing new India always make a potential player to a superstar in the matter of a series (ex: Haddin, A flower, to most recent de kock, KW, now Wagner).

  • agent001 on February 10, 2014, 3:23 GMT

    The slow motion LBW of Ajinka Rehane with that first ball of the second new ball shows the bat miles away from the ball. How did the bat register a spot on hot spot. Totally unreliable technology. Umpire Davis may have been correct on that decision and may be the bat rubbed against the pad to have picked up that spot. Check it out !

  • dinosaurus on February 9, 2014, 23:41 GMT

    India are just one match away from the kind of tour that England have just experienced in Australia. Northern hemisphere teams just haven't enjoyed the "down under" summer.

  • SixFourOut on February 9, 2014, 23:19 GMT

    Fulton and Rutherford are never going to score runs. Rutherford had one good score on a track so flat it makes a subcontinent wicket seem green.

    Bring in Latham and Guptill. Latham who is young and get him playing now and Guptill who has played international cricket for a while and has immense talent when in form. Both are superior talents.

    Sodhi needs another year of first class cricket.

    Bring in Neesham to bowl some bouncers at 140 kms and provide some lower order batting and you automatically strengthen this team.

    You've got two good openers ready to go, plus Guptill has his eye in, so use that to your advantage or you'll be 10/2 in very innings.

  • Silverbails on February 9, 2014, 23:13 GMT

    Another pathetic performance from this useless Indian Test team. Having said that, N.Z. thoroughly deserved their first Test victory over this third rate team for 12 years. I now anticipate a 2 - 0 N.Z. whitewash of this poor Indian Test team!! Really sad and disappointing...

  • Codfish63 on February 9, 2014, 21:42 GMT

    Always wondered why they persisted with Wagner ahead of Bracewell until this summer. He used to leak runs and release pressure. Now his big hearted efforts are paying off in spades, and now he is an integral component of this team. Boult, Southee, Wagner and Anderson - who needs spinners in NZ when you have matchwinners like these?

  • Chris_P on February 9, 2014, 20:17 GMT

    @arunkolly1987 I think your comment was well below average and shows how little you know about other countries. Stop believing your local hype efforts on flat pitches.

  • Foxymoron on February 9, 2014, 19:10 GMT

    Wagner proved himself in this test. I didn't really know what people were talking about (specifically) when they referred to him having 'heart', now I know.

    Regarding the NZ team: Sodhi is too green, play four seamers (or Neesham). Guptill looked good at the end of the one-dayers; I'd feel better with him at the top of the order for Fulton. Rutherford needs to curb his aggression. Whomever they have they need to hang around longer, runs are secondary. They need solid technique and patience.

    I was formally a Ryder fan, but his technique against the straight fuller ball has been shown, plus his on-going issues have changed my opinion of him. He and Bracewell are fringe players and should be kept that way until they put their cricket before their partying.

  • Alexk400 on February 9, 2014, 18:35 GMT

    First day i was not impressed with him but i think he bowled with 150% effort. He is lion hearted. Only if he gets his speed 150mph , He will be da man for nz. He may also has to do film study on weakness of indian batsman. I found him trying too many variation same over. His job to put ball where batsman can't score. Because batsman would like to attack 3rd seamer.

  • on February 9, 2014, 17:39 GMT

    New Zealand with a good coach can move up to be the top team . The numbers don't reflect their capability

  • aaditya24 on February 9, 2014, 17:27 GMT

    Wagner was undoubtedly the difference between victory & defeat. As an Indian fan it was almost annoying to see this guy coming over after over bowl with such high energy & putting relentless pressure. Whenever NZ needed breakthrough he got one from nowhere. Talking about NZ team, i dont think they are a below avg side. I really think that they have a really good fast bowling lineup. They have drawn series in Aus,SL .Came close to winning a test vs ind in banglore as well.They should have won their home series vs eng,and then a test in eng as well. They have shown over the years that they arent as useless as ppl make them out to be. and as far as ind performance goes, i think if they can play with the same intensity that they showed on day3-4 they will start winning more games abroad as this new group gets more experienced. Things are not so bad and i am hopeful!

  • krik8crazy on February 9, 2014, 16:48 GMT

    What a champ! He bowled his heart out and delivered whenever his team needed a breakthrough. This is the type of player India needs.

  • on February 9, 2014, 16:26 GMT

    Worst team effort as per as Indians are concern ,, Wagner was absolute future for kiwis .. Never ever go overseas without Sehwag, gambir, .. Coz for india's concern they are the top notch openers we won last time when we came nz at 2009 .. Bring back these 2 then Indians can really move forward in a empathic way

  • on February 9, 2014, 16:14 GMT

    Indian's never win in abroad pitches .,they are not quite good as in Indian wicket ,, bowlers and batsmen's are good in flat pitches... They are street cricketers except dhoni and kohli these 2 r really good and suits for all kind of wicket.. Rest of them are school boys ..

  • FighterKallis on February 9, 2014, 15:06 GMT

    Replace fulton with ryder and sodhi with bracewell in the next match and the match will be over in 3 days . Go home dhoni 0-4 and 0-2 . (0-11 overseas and it will tick against u till u retire from test career)

  • fair_paly_1 on February 9, 2014, 14:43 GMT

    Shane Bond

    I bet you are proud of how all your seamers have performed and how they kept the pressure on till the end.

    I suspect that guy calling NZ "average" either hasn't seen the match or is simply dazzled by India's financial might.

  • dantnz on February 9, 2014, 14:24 GMT

    Superhuman effort from Wagner. I just marvel at the belief and determination it must take to keep running in like that all day, especially when at several points in the innings India looked commanding and you could see that they believed they were on top. Wagner must train like a demon as well to be fit enough to stay accurate and fast through those long spells. Huge commitment, I hope our other fine bowlers waiting in the wings saw that and try and meet the challenge.

  • on February 9, 2014, 13:48 GMT

    @Arunkolly1987 Below average New Zealand? We defeated aussies in our last confrontation in hobart. Drew against Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka. Drew against no. 1 England and even came close to defeat them. Wonder what you're talking about.

  • fair_paly_1 on February 9, 2014, 13:40 GMT

    No doubt a deserving bowler. Hope he gets 5 for next time.

  • 512fm on February 9, 2014, 13:31 GMT

    Wagner has the same effort and passion of Tino Best, but actually takes wickets.

  • arunkolly1987 on February 9, 2014, 13:28 GMT

    I think the current indian team is no more good in playing test cricket than the below average newzeland

  • DJRNZ on February 9, 2014, 13:20 GMT

    amazing effort from Wagner. The effort the guy puts in is second to none.

  • No featured comments at the moment.

  • DJRNZ on February 9, 2014, 13:20 GMT

    amazing effort from Wagner. The effort the guy puts in is second to none.

  • arunkolly1987 on February 9, 2014, 13:28 GMT

    I think the current indian team is no more good in playing test cricket than the below average newzeland

  • 512fm on February 9, 2014, 13:31 GMT

    Wagner has the same effort and passion of Tino Best, but actually takes wickets.

  • fair_paly_1 on February 9, 2014, 13:40 GMT

    No doubt a deserving bowler. Hope he gets 5 for next time.

  • on February 9, 2014, 13:48 GMT

    @Arunkolly1987 Below average New Zealand? We defeated aussies in our last confrontation in hobart. Drew against Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka. Drew against no. 1 England and even came close to defeat them. Wonder what you're talking about.

  • dantnz on February 9, 2014, 14:24 GMT

    Superhuman effort from Wagner. I just marvel at the belief and determination it must take to keep running in like that all day, especially when at several points in the innings India looked commanding and you could see that they believed they were on top. Wagner must train like a demon as well to be fit enough to stay accurate and fast through those long spells. Huge commitment, I hope our other fine bowlers waiting in the wings saw that and try and meet the challenge.

  • fair_paly_1 on February 9, 2014, 14:43 GMT

    Shane Bond

    I bet you are proud of how all your seamers have performed and how they kept the pressure on till the end.

    I suspect that guy calling NZ "average" either hasn't seen the match or is simply dazzled by India's financial might.

  • FighterKallis on February 9, 2014, 15:06 GMT

    Replace fulton with ryder and sodhi with bracewell in the next match and the match will be over in 3 days . Go home dhoni 0-4 and 0-2 . (0-11 overseas and it will tick against u till u retire from test career)

  • on February 9, 2014, 16:14 GMT

    Indian's never win in abroad pitches .,they are not quite good as in Indian wicket ,, bowlers and batsmen's are good in flat pitches... They are street cricketers except dhoni and kohli these 2 r really good and suits for all kind of wicket.. Rest of them are school boys ..

  • on February 9, 2014, 16:26 GMT

    Worst team effort as per as Indians are concern ,, Wagner was absolute future for kiwis .. Never ever go overseas without Sehwag, gambir, .. Coz for india's concern they are the top notch openers we won last time when we came nz at 2009 .. Bring back these 2 then Indians can really move forward in a empathic way