Perseverance could be Neil Wagner's middle name and yesterday it gave the New Zealand bowler a special reward at Hagley Oval.

The hustling left-armer produced his best test figures, six for 106, as he, just about single-handedly, kept New Zealand afloat in a test they must win to level their series against Australia.

When he's long gone from the game, Wagner's name won't resonate among the finest New Zealand has had. But when it comes to determination, indefatigability and heart he'll have a gold star beside it.

Think back to the day before this test began.

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Canterbury seamer Matt Henry, who has been in good form this summer, was confirmed in the XI. The final place would go to either Wagner or offspinner Mark Craig.

Craig hasn't worked against Australia this summer and while ordinarily a team would always want a specialist spinner, the forest green colour of the pitch, plus its dampness, plus Craig's lack of success persuaded the important voices to call up Wagner. Talk about the last man in grabbing his chance. This is Wagner's 19th test but his first against Australia and one he'll long remember, if not all for happy reasons.

It was his short-pitched flier which struck Australian captain Steve Smith a hefty blow on the back of his helmet on Sunday, which sent the batsman to the ground in a hurry.

Wagner admitted to "a shaky feeling" at the sight.

Smith recovered, but the memory of Phil Hughes' death two years ago resonates strongly within the game.

To pigeon hole the Pretoria-born, Otago seamer as a one-trick pony is wide of the mark.

But he is happy to deliver a barrage of short-pitched bowling if his captain orders it.

Yesterday, having taken two wickets late on Sunday to give New Zealand some succour after a day of unrewarded toil, he was lively in an early six-over spell then worked his way through the Australian innings after lunch. All six of his wickets fell to short balls.

Yesterday, two were caught at square leg and mid wicket; one steered a lifter to wicketkeeper BJ Watling while last man Josh Hazlewood pushed another short delivery to first slip.

Wagner whooped and hollered and Watling gave him high praise last night.

"It was a pretty special bowling performance," he said.

"I think it was about 25 overs of good, fast short-pitched bowling and he got us right back into a position from where we can hopefully get ourselves into a position to win the game.

"He almost gets faster the deeper he goes into his spells. He's done it for us on many occasions and today he got his rewards. It was just a fantastic effort to do it so long."

Watching Wagner is a study in wholeheartedness.

His walk back to his mark is brisk, businesslike. Give me the ball and I'll come back at you, might be his mantra.

There's no teapots at any misfortune. Just get on with it, the body language says.

His previous best figures were five for 64 against Bangladesh at Dhaka. They were tougher conditions, but weaker opponents, than yesterday, when the pitch was all in the batsmen's favour.

He has taken 73 wickets at 32.05, 18 in his last three and a half tests at home this summer.

Others failed to deliver over the last couple of days. Just as well Wagner was up for the job.

SCOREBOARD

WAGONWHEEL

MANHATTAN