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

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

  • Richard 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.

  • Android 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!

  • Vinod 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....

  • Dummy4 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).

  • Ed 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.

  • Beau 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

  • Obert 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.

  • Mahendhar 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).

  • tarek 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 !

  • John 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.

  • No featured comments at the moment.