There are days when bowlers bowl their hearts out on flat pitches and don't get the rewards they deserve. And there are other days when a bowler doesn't bowl close to his best on a green pitch but things fall into place for him. It was the second kind of those for Neil Wagner on Friday when he ripped through the West Indies line-up with a career-best 7 for 39, despite not feeling in great rhythm when he started bowling. West Indies had started well with an opening stand of 59 before Wagner picked six of the first seven wickets to fall and reduced them to 97 for 7. Wagner, despite sending down a barrage of short balls like he often has in the past, called it a "bizarre" day.
"At the start, I didn't really feel like I had a great rhythm," he said. "I obviously first tried to pitch the ball up to see if there was any swing or movement and adjust my lengths a little bit. I struggled for a bit of rhythm and felt I had to try and find a way of adapting pretty fast. So myself and Kane [Williamson] spoke in the middle and I tried to work that wind, when there was a bit of a stiff breeze and eventually worked towards the plan and it came off. It was just one of those bizarre days when things sort of happen your way. I think I've bowled a lot better on other days and not get a wicket and then you get days like this. I guess it's cricket.
"I wouldn't say it was one of those days when you felt a 100% perfect and everything is just coming out sweet and the way you want to. I felt I had to work really hard and find a way to be consistent and it's just one of those days. I recall a couple of weeks back in a Plunket Shield game where I felt a million dollars and couldn't get a wicket. And then you go out there today and things don't really tick but wickets just keep falling. As I said, bizarre sort of a thing when you get in a bit of a zone and it works and ends up being your day.
"Certainly, got a bit worried at one stage; they were looking quite comfortable and played really well. We had flashes of the Bangladesh game. I thought they started really well and obviously implemented their plans pretty well and then we had to find different ways and ask questions and hopefully get rewards and it helped. In the end, it worked out our way."
The New Zealand bowlers went wicketless for nearly 22 overs despite expectations of a seamer-friendly track in Wellington. However, when Trent Boult, Matt Henry and Colin de Grandhomme could not taste success in their opening spells, Wagner was introduced in the 18th over with three slips and a gully. It was in his third over, though, that he changed tactics after realising there was no lateral movement on offer. New Zealand placed a forward short leg, a leg gully and a deep square leg as Wagner peppered the batsmen with his short balls.
"The pitch was not doing as much as we expected it to do. As soon as you pitched it up, I think the ball went out of shape a little bit and got quite soft," Wagner said. "And there wasn't really a hell of a lot of movement off [the] wicket, it was quite breezy and windy so wasn't quite swinging conditions. And then we obviously had to adapt our plans and try and find different methods to try and stop the scoring rate. That eventually worked out in wickets for us which was pretty pleasing and worked out well."
Wagner was on a hat-trick twice in the innings. The first instance could have easily gone unnoticed when he dismissed Shai Hope on the last ball of the 28th over and then saw debutant Sunil Ambris step on his stumps on the first ball of his next over. Four overs later, Wagner had Roston Chase caught at leg slip before sending down a yorker to dismiss Jason Holder for a golden duck. Wagner later said he wasn't aware of one of the instances until he saw it flashed on the scoreboard.
"To be honest, at that stage I don't think too much about something like that," Wagner said of missing out on both hat-tricks. "I think in one instance - I can't remember which one it was, it all seems like a bit of a blur now - it was on the last ball or something and I knew Boulty is bowling from the other end and I knew I wanted to keep that guy on strike as well so get him off strike to get one and then Boulty has a crack through him as well. So if he got on, it wouldn't have been too bad a result.
"I think at one point I saw on the scoreboard I was on a hat-trick and I didn't even know. I think it was on the first ball of the next over, so I didn't even know. It's just the cherry on top at the end of the day if it happens."