New Zealand v Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Dunedin, 5th day December 14, 2015

When workhorse Wagner brought down the barn door

New Zealand were made to labour for their wickets throughout the Test, so in many ways it fit that a man such as Neil Wagner made the pivotal play on day five

Neil Wagner picked up the wicket of Angelo Mathews to open the flood gates for New Zealand on the final day in Dunedin © Getty Images

"Workhorse" is how Brendon McCullum described Neil Wagner before the Test. New Zealand then strapped four seamers to their plough on a generally lifeless Dunedin surface, but each quick had his specific role. Tim Southee and Trent Boult are the shiny-coated thoroughbreds, operating from sleek run-ups and liquid velvet bowling actions. In comparison, Wagner is one of those plodding, thick-set horses with fur around their ankles and a perpetually morose expression. He was left in the stable during New Zealand's recent tour of Australia. This may partially explain the morose look. He also lives in Dunedin.

On the fifth morning, when Sri Lanka began to surge - Dinesh Chandimal slap-happy behind point, Angelo Mathews turning the strike over - Wagner began to till a furrow on leg stump. In his second over of the day, a short one at Mathews' throat was ducked under. The next one took the shoulder of the bat and whistled by leg gully for four.

It was having got the batsman fearful of two close catchers on the legside that Wagner slipped in the surprise. Mathews attempted to pad away the full, swinging delivery next over, and wound up granting safe passage to the ball, through the arch of his splayed legs. He would later say the ball hit his pad and simply "rolled" into the woodwork. This is like saying the Titanic merely brushed the iceberg; that Poland had just been tickled by the Nazis. The only things actually rolling was middle stump, which had been uprooted, and maybe fans watching the dismissal, splitting their sides.

"I thought it was beautifully set up," Brendon McCullum later said of that breakthrough. "It was a sustained period when Wags was trying to go in around the rib cage, to try and get Angelo off the ball. Angelo's such a world-class player, you can't just run in and try and hit off top of off stump to him because he's so adaptable and he's got such a strong defence as well.

"It was a plan we wanted play out, and when he started walking across his stumps a little bit, Wags decided that at some stage he was going to try and bowl the miracle ball to hit the base of leg stump. In the end it split his defence."

After that breakthrough, Wagner's furrow grew to a channel, then a river, which Sri Lanka were washed out to sea in. Wagner helped muzzle Dinesh Chandimal, before he was out at the other end, padding away a delivery from Mitchell Santner. Kithuruwan Vithanage chanced his blade for 38 balls, but was gone before lunch. Boult came back to knock out a feisty Sri Lanka lower order, yet it had been Wagner who unlocked the victory.

New Zealand were made to labour for their wickets throughout the Test, so in many ways it fit that a man such as Wagner made the pivotal play on day five. In all, they bowled 212.3 overs in the Test, without a specialist spinner. The new-ball bowlers swung it a little, but Doug Bracewell delivered economy, and Wagner nearly bowled himself into his hometown dirt. The effort was collective. Southee picked up New Zealand's best figures in the innings, with 3 for 52, but to find a less impressive "best analysis" for a New Zealand bowler in wins, you would have to go back to 2009.

"I thought Doug bowled absolutely brilliantly throughout the test match and all through Australia as well," McCullum said, of Bracewell, who also had two catches spilt. "He just hasn't got the rewards at the moment, but I'm sure he will get them soon."

In their last home series, also against Sri Lanka, New Zealand's big-name players dominated. McCullum plundered 195, Boult and Southee scythed through the top order, and Williamson finished with the series' highest score. In this Test, the hosts' lower profile players have made critical contributions. Mathews is the owner of one of the world's best defensive techniques, but on day five, the workhorse brought down the barn door.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando

Comments have now been closed for this article

  •   Andy Parry on December 15, 2015, 23:41 GMT

    Surely now Wagner must have replaced Elliot as New Zealand's greatest South African.

  • rob on December 15, 2015, 23:34 GMT

    Poor old Dougie Bracewell. He had no luck in oz and it seems the trend is continuing back on home soil. Two catches put down according to the article. It's enough to break your heart, but I doubt Doug will let it get to him. What goes around comes around so one of these days the luck will go his way and he'll pick up a bag-full. .. As you may have guessed, I'm a bit of a Dougie fan. He's one of those tough as nails kiwi's that just keeps running in all day long and quietly sets things up for the fancy pants rocks stars getting all the lime light at the other end.

  • Yohaan on December 15, 2015, 5:55 GMT

    1) Skipper Mathews- Failed in all departments,

    2) K mendis- Failed to make the mark expected from a Test Opener (inexperience no excuse, since he was selected over experienced, consistent batter).

    3) Jayasundera- Failed to handle No3 demands(inexperience no excuse, since he was selected over experienced, consistent batter )

    4) Kithruwan- added 2 more failures to his recent string to make it 10 innings @ 15 av.

    Total Outcome (thanks to the collective effort of "Not the best" batting unit):-Another defeat with a huge margin heading towards Ninth series defeat in all formats (within past year).

    Another one waiting in Hamilton.!

  • Rahul on December 15, 2015, 5:14 GMT

    If cricket teams were to be compared to a gourmet meal then NZ will present the most delicious dish. It has all the ingredients to become a great test team. It will lack the spinning ingredient since Dan has retired but non the less everything else is perfectly in place. Brendon is currently the worlds best skipper in test cricket and Williamson is the best young test batsmen, Bolt and Southee are on par with the best at the moment with the new ball. Add to that Ross Taylors class and you have one hell of a team. It will be nice to see ICC granting more overseas tours of England, Australia, SAF and India to this test team. We will be in for some fascinating test cricket.

  • Beau on December 15, 2015, 4:51 GMT

    Wagner and Bracewell are really presenting "good problems" for selectors right now. Bracewell bowling dots and helping to fill the all-rounder void with his batting; Wagner soaking up old-ball overs, keeping everyone (friend and foe) honest, and breaking set partnerships. Who to drop if presented with a spinning pitch? Tough call. If the spinner is Craig or Sodhi, Bracewell's batting is less important, but his maidens and dot balls even more vital. Then again, Wagner (theoretically) should be a much more effective bowler on dry pitches. I say stick with this team all Summer until and unless Milne, Craig or Sodhi forces his way in and/or Santner excellent start tails off. Santner's bowling has been a revelation so far, but you wouldn't want to count on him piling up 25-30 overs per innings (then again, there's always Williamson's gentle offies, if required). The key, obviously, is Boult. Whatever the makeup of the rest of the attack, NZ need their spearhead back at his best, and soon.

  • Soy on December 15, 2015, 1:54 GMT

    @OSCAR465 - Haha, the "4 jockeys..." part was brilliant! I too see the value in Bracewell and Wagner - they are hard, aggressive cricketers who are rough around the edges. Grunts in the trenches, they get the "meat and potatoes" done and done well. Further, Bracewell's batting is due an evolution or two in Test cricket (I say he'll average around 20 and at a good rate, adding to his value).

    But he and the utterly rapid Wagner are the perfect drawcards for the silkier, more methodical "snipers" in Boult and even Southee.

    Contrast, complementary skillsets and a "different men for different jobs" lineup gives you the X factor insofar as variety.

    And that Santner kid, wow, early days but as an Aussie I rate him highly. Yes, his batting technique is a little loose (particularly around off stump to genuine pace), but check his efforts in his first 2 Tests - key wickets and crucial runs in both.

    We loved having you boys over, and now I'm utterly terrified about touring your lands!

  • Aaron on December 14, 2015, 20:30 GMT

    If you look at NZ's cricket history, the value of Bracewell's parsimony is clear. Sir Richard Hadlee was a class above, yet he had a foil at the other end in Chatfield. Chats never really threatened, but he didn't provide a pressure release.

    Wagner does go for runs, but he also doesn't let the batsmen relax. Both of them must be adding wickets to Boult and Southee by their good work.

    Plus their workload - let Boult and Southee have short sharp spells. Boult in particular seems to bowl best that way, and we need to look after his back.

    Santner at 6, and bowl the 4 seamers. Not quite the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse that Windies had, maybe the 4 Jockeys of the uncomfortable period after tea?

  • John on December 14, 2015, 17:49 GMT

    @SLEXPAT-You are being a bit harsh there. If B Mac had won the toss he would have put SL in as well. The pitch simply didn't have any sizzle in it that both teams expected. A young inexperienced side, closer to the South Pole than home, did well to get the game into the fifth day. I reckon they will score a bunch of runs in Hamilton (guaranteed draw).

  • Andrew on December 14, 2015, 16:02 GMT

    Going down by 122 runs plus 7 NZ wickets spared in the 2nd inning by postive-minded kiwi skipper McCullum is humiliating as an innings defeat for SL. Can you compare the devastating seaming conditions prvailed in Christchurch Test last year to the conditions saw in this test? I think the so calleed resistence saw from unjustified spot grabbers are due to that (the scrachy & lucky 20-40 made by rookie Mendis & proven failiure Kithruwan (his little cameo against spinners lasted just a few balls when seamers resumed with 2nd new ball in 80th). Dimuth & Chandimal are no longer newcomers & now they need to be considered as SL's highprofile regulars. They did their part but lacked the badly needed support from another experienced guy (ideally Upul Tharanga) lacked in the side, especially at that vital number 3 spot. My view : MATHEWS - Failed in batting & failed as a skipper with Negative approach in all departments, starting with wrong call to put NZ to bat 1st. SELECTORS Failed as usual

  •   Stephen Carran on December 14, 2015, 9:22 GMT

    I think I might be the first response to this article?! I like that! Fernando is a writer that I can identify with style-wise but don't you start knocking Dunedin as well! Dunedin is one of my favourite Cities on the world. There's history and culture and probably the most welcoming and friendly people in NZ?! It may be cold but I really don't understand why they put the first test of the 'Summer' there when it is well known that Dunedin's best weather is early to mid Autumn and 30 degree days are not uncommon. So why don't they play the last matches of the season there. Anyway, don't knock Dunnos as it shows an ignorance of the culture from there that has permeated society. Richie McCaw grew up there as have many famous New Zealanders. I grew up in the North Island but never knew such acceptance and friendliness in people until I lived in Dunedin. I suggest you go out on the town in Dunnos and see if you don't have one of the best nights of your life! As for the cricket....

  • No featured comments at the moment.