Match Analysis

Wagner gets the job done with heart and skill

It was just passion that Neil Wagner's face reflected as he celebrated the wicket of Ben Stokes and Chris Woakes on the last day. It came without a lot of the nonsense seen of late

Neil Wagner celebrates Ben Stokes' wicket, New Zealand v England, 1st Test, Auckland, 5th day, March 26, 2018

Neil Wagner celebrates Ben Stokes' wicket  •  Getty Images

There was an outbreak of tough, compelling Test cricket at Eden Park which, barring late surprises, won't need the intervention of match referees, CEOs or lawyers. There was a winner and a loser, delight and disappointment, heart and skill.
It was the best day of a truncated Test because it was the best contest. England, having been shocking on the first day with the bat and insipid with the ball, found some backbone - albeit too late - and New Zealand dug deep into their resolve to claim the seven wickets they needed to secure victory.
No controversy, just passion. It was there, front and centre, in Neil Wagner's face as he bounced out Ben Stokes and Chris Woakes, but came without a lot of the nonsense seen of late. Of course, there was jousting in the middle; Wagner would repeatedly follow through up close to the batsman and stare them down. There may even have been a few words. But he turned, went back to his mark, and put all his focus on his next delivery. No shoulders were touched.
Wagner wasn't needed in the first innings, such was the demolition job done by Tim Southee and Trent Boult, but the second always felt like an occasion where he would need to come to the fore. On the fourth evening, he bounced out Mark Stoneman from round the wicket, the left-hander top-edging to long leg the delivery after reaching his fifty, but it was on Monday where Wagner went above and beyond for his captain.
There was a 10-over spell in the afternoon session and a 12-over one split by the dinner break. This pitch was no minefield (it had not had much more than three days cricket on it) and occasionally Wagner's bouncers would die through to the keeper. He was not disheartened. If anything, he was motivated.
The spell before dinner, as Stokes and Woakes forged a stand that was giving England a glimmer of repeating their 2013 escape at this ground, was must-watch. Deliveries were fended short of gully and the leg-side catches, an ambitious pull from Stokes flew between keeper and the wide slip, Woakes pulled wide of leg gully. Perhaps the best of all was a ripping bouncer which Stokes did well to avoid as it tailed in at him.
By now Stokes had received a visit from the physio and popped some pills for his back. This was his fourth-longest Test innings in terms of balls faced and his first first-class match since September. He had come into it with issues over his back that prevented him bowling. Having defended so well throughout the innings he now seemed keen to play more shots, suggesting the back was making it more difficult to avoid the short ball.
With four balls to go before tea, Wagner sent down another bouncer, this one wider outside off. Stokes, even in a match-saving scenario, gave himself some room and tried to carve it over the off side. All he could do was send it swirling into the dusk sky and Southee judged it very well moving back from point. It was another bad moment for England minutes before a break to follow the dismissals of Joe Root and Moeen Ali.
"I thought he showed great control and at times restraint from his natural game," Root said. "He will obviously be very disappointed in his dismissal, but I thought he played exceptionally well, and I don't think the way he got out was a fair representation of how he got stuck in today and put a really good shift in for England."
Wagner's face was demonic. It looked as though the veins in his neck would explode. He knew how important that wicket was.
"It was a big wicket, Stokes was playing very, very well," Kane Williamson said. "An innings that was perhaps not to the true nature of the strokemaker he is and he really knuckled down and kept us out for a long time. He didn't give us any opportunities until that time and it was nice to get that wicket before the break.
"As a batsman you are always trying to make the best decisions and he made a number of very good ones. There are so many things that can come into a dismissal but it was great that we were able to get that wicket. But Neil showed his versatility, bowling that fuller length as well. We knew at times, with so many strokemakers in the English side, we couldn't just skin it one way, we had to keep them at bay then adjust the plan and Neil was brilliant at both of those."
Wagner wasn't finished. England didn't roll over after straight after tea. Craig Overton was trapped lbw by Todd Astle's excellent googly, but Woakes was still there and Stuart Broad had memories of his 77-ball 6 here five years ago. For half an hour that pair hung on and the overs remaining dipped towards 20. Get into the final hour and tensions would grow.
Woakes had been at the crease nearly three hours. Yet he could still do nothing about what he got next. Wagner, over the wicket, sent down a pinpoint bouncer at his head which he could only feed to short leg. That was in the 12th over of Wagner's spell. Moments before he had appeared to indicate to Williamson that he wanted one more. He made it count. The vein almost popped again. He wasn't needed for another as next over James Anderson drove Astle to mid-off.
Job done for New Zealand. No nine-wicket-down agony this time.

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo