Neil Wagner: From Workhorse to Thoroughbred
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Neil Wagner is a one-of-a-kind bowler who is admired for his adaptability, tenacity and boundless energy, making him one of the best bowlers of our time. Famed cricket writer Jarrod Kimber described him as “a first change, short, slow, long left-arm spell, bouncer specialist”.
Does not shine in praise, but the key being that Wagner is a dump machine that will wear down a batsman with his relentless attack. Steve Smith can attest to Wagner’s ability after being fired by him four times in four rounds of the 2019 series.
Even though the pitches were set to suggest what Wagner would play, Smith and the other batsmen couldn’t handle it. Because of his stamina, batsmen know they will never wear him out and it must be tedious when faced with continuous short-pitch deliveries.
Wagner plays more bouncers than anyone and takes many more wickets with his short bowling and is well supported by his receivers. While its namesake Richard Wagner revolutionized opera, Neil Wagner left his mark on first change bowling.
Oh, and by the way, Neil prefers his last name to be pronounced in an English style, rather than an Afrikaans style, Wagner not ‘Vaggner’.
After the new Black Caps ball attack of Tim Southee and Trent Boult (or his replacement) tires, Wagner takes over and throws the next 20 overs, and he then continues to play until the second new ball is taken. This demonstrates his importance to the Black Caps and his inspirational exploits make him a respected and valued member of the team.
Wagner was born in 1986 in Pretoria, South Africa. He attended Afrikaans Seuns Hoerskool and grew up with Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers. His idols were Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock, imitating everything they did. Even though he played for the South African Academy team and was the 12th man for South Africa, he had limited opportunities ahead of him due to a few pretty good bowlers.
A move abroad was the solution to gaining a career in testing. England came close, but he moved to New Zealand in 2008.
Wagner served a four-year stint before he could be eligible to play for the Black Caps and received his first test in 2012. He struggled to hold on to his spot, however, but became the ‘workhorse as the third couturier, seeks to cement his place.
He needed to find his niche from Boult and Southee and it happened in a game against India when he took eight wickets, six with the short ball. He was away. Add the courage he showed when bowling with injuries such as broken toes and he was a regular member of the team.
In 2019 against Australia he became the second fastest New Zealander to take 200 wickets behind Sir Richard Hadlee and he won the admiration of Australian and world cricketers for his unwavering stamina. Nobody else can play in his style and continually take wickets. “He’s an absolute machine,” Travis Head said.
Wagner is recognized as one of the greatest first-change bowlers, taking the second-most wickets of any setter without using the new ball. He is one of 13 setters to have taken more than 100 bowling wickets on the first substitution or less. Five of those 13 are versatile.
When he left for New Zealand he was branded a traitor and sold out by South Africans, but Wagner is adamant in his praise of New Zealand and his gratitude to his new country. “If you want to give your all for your team, you have to sever all emotional ties with your former country,” Wagner said.
“I had to cut the cord that linked me to South Africa. New Zealand welcomed me with open arms and I will always be grateful.
Recently he won a match for New Zealand playing with a bulging disc and torn hamstrings against Sri Lanka and also took the winning wicket against England in one of the big Tests.
Wagner is different because he doesn’t bowl like a conventional bowler and has carved out a role for himself in New Zealand. He has the heart of a lion, never backs down and, as Ricky Ponting says, is the heartbeat of the Black Caps and a captain’s dream.
Neil Wagner, one of my favorite cricketers.