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