Wagner once again delivered the best when New Zealand needed the most.
New Zealand won the Day-Night Test against England at Eden Park to gain a healthy 1-0 lead in the series. Their bowling was outstanding in both the innings as they won the encounter by an innings and 58 runs. While Trent Boult and Tim Southee hogged all the headlines in the first innings, Neil Wagner and Todd Astle inflicted most of the damage in the second. New Zealand were right on the money from the outset and put up an emphatic performance to have a scintillating win under their belt.
While the fate of those involved in Sandpapergate rested in the hands of the ICC, Cricket Australia and the draconian court of public opinion, Neil Wagner thwarted the threat of rain and turned the fate of a cliffhanger in Auckland in his team’s favor.
While most of the news in cricket fraternity has been related to the ball-tampering incident, New Zealand in another part of the world were drilling hard to snatch a win in a rain-affected Test. Their win was camouflaged by the disgraceful event.
Coming back to the Test, England were no match to New Zealand. In the first innings, they were undone for a paltry 58 after which, New Zealand came out all guns blazing to have 427 runs on the board riding on Kane Williamson and Henry Nicholls’ centuries. English bowlers had a tough time on the field and now had a big challenge to overcome with the bat in the second innings.
England had four and a half session to be played in order to save the Test against a bowling that ripped them apart in the first innings. Conditions were different now, England had a chance as the pitch was not doing a lot and assisted the batsmen too. New Zealand didn’t require a third bowler in the first innings, such was the impact of Boult and Southee in the first innings. But second innings was going to be different. One could have expected Neil Wagner to join the party.
There is something different about Wagner, the left-arm pace brims with energy and his spirited body language is motivating on the field. He steams hard and gives it all on every delivery, it’s pretty evident. He can be a workhorse and bowl those marathon-spells, but well equipped to move the new ball both ways on unresponsive surfaces. He may not possess express pace, bowls in mid 130s, but he gives an impression of being a quick one. That works in his favour and allows him to bang the deliveries short more often.
In the second innings, New Zealand needed early breakthroughs, Mark Stoneman was looking good on 55 when Wagner got the better of him. New Zealand needed a wicket desperately and Wagner delivered. But Wagner’s magnificent spell came on Monday, when England threatened to save the game and deny New Zealand a much-deserved win. The battle between Ben Stokes and Wagner infused energy just when it looked like the game was merely meandering towards an anticlimactic draw.
Stokes was in the middle of tenacious knock, batting on 66. Despite being a stroke-maker, the southpaw had confronted 188 deliveries to lead England’s resurrection alongside Chris Woakes. Wagner backed himself and kept banging in short. With just four deliveries to go for the dinner break, Stokes fell prey to Wagner’s persistence on the third delivery. This was the push New Zealand needed, had England been six down till Dinner, it would have given them a real chance to save the Test considering the kind of partnership that was built between the two all-rounders.
Williamson shed light on Stokes’ dismissal and was quoted in a report from ESPNCricinfo saying, “It was a big wicket, Stokes was playing very, very well. An innings that was perhaps not to the true nature of the stroke-maker 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 stroke-makers 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,” Williamson added.
Wagner once again delivered when his team needed the most, but he wasn’t done yet. In his 12th over of the spell, Wagner sent a well set Woakes back to the pavilion with a short one again, and this was almost unplayable. Astle got the better of James Anderson as New Zealand romped home with a healthy victory.
Wagner has immense potential, his ability is under-rated. He has stood up in crunch situations and got the job done for his skipper. The pace troika of Boult, Southee and Wagner has spilt fire at Eden Park and will be the attack to watch out for in the remainder of the series. For Wagner, he has won thousands of hearts for his enthusiasm and energetic spell.