David Leggat: Wagner tactics rated as priceless

By David Leggat

New Zealand bowler Neil Wagner in action against India. Photo / Mark Mitchell
New Zealand bowler Neil Wagner in action against India. Photo / Mark Mitchell

It seems strange to reflect that for a year from December 2014, Neil Wagner was required for none of the six tests New Zealand played in that time.

In his past four tests - with an innings still remaining to be bowled in Bulawayo in the next day or two - Wagner has taken 22 wickets at 30 apiece.

Extrapolate that and he has 41 in his past eight. Whichever statistic you prefer, it works out at a blink over five wickets per test, which is a world class wicket taking rate.

But the hard-charging Otago left armer offers more than those dismissals in his contribution to the New Zealand team.

When he was bowling at Zimbabwe's soft batting lineup yesterday, the game changed.

Tim Southee and Trent Boult, good seamers ranked among the world's best, are swing and seam operators.

Generally they pitch the ball up to get it to wobble about and beat the batting stroke.

Wagner doesn't bother with such niceties.

In he bounds, all vim and vigour, thumps the ball into the pitch and challenges batsmen to take him on - or in Zimbabwe's case, scares them into error.

He's not express pace, but he's certainly lively enough.

And he is an indefatigable bowler who doesn't know when to quit.

That sort of bowler is priceless to a team.

Late in a day, when things haven't gone their way, Wagner is the sort of bowler a captain's eyes would turn to.

"Got a bit more left in the tank Wags," he might say.

Brendon McCullum once remarked that he loved having Wagner in his team, over and above for whatever wickets he took.

As his teammates watched Wagner bustle in late on a hot afternoon and give everything to every delivery, often tumbling to the ground in his follow through, McCullum reckoned he could see other bowlers thinking 'if he can do this, so can I'.

Wagner took six for 41 in 20.5 overs yesterday.

He made things happen.

He went round the wicket and, as he did against Sri Lanka at Hamilton last summer, and Australia in Christchurch in New Zealand's most recent test last February, dropped it short, repeatedly.

The Hamilton test became a hard, even tedious watch, with both fast-medium bowling attacks firing the ball in short with good effect but dreadful monotony.

There was some dopey shot making in Sri Lanka's second innings - hooking catches straight to boundary fielders for example - and that, coupled with Kane Williamson's classy century, got New Zealand the win from an umpromising situation at the halfway point.

Australia, for all their greater batting competence, had four batsmen caught around square leg in their first innings, all attempting a pull off Wagner.

The short-pitched tactic doesn't appeal to everyone, and certainly Zimbabwe had batsmen singularly ill-equipped and uncomfortable facing the short ball.

But Wagner's logic is that if batsmen are propping forward on a pitch offering little help to the bowlers, something has to be done to force them onto the back foot.

Rib ticklers are not bouncers and Wagner is doing a fine job for his team.

New Zealand teams have long had honest toiling foot soldiers in support of their star turns. Right now, Wagner is actually wearing both hats.

- NZ Herald

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