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New Zealand vs West Indies 2020: Neil Wagner Establishes Himself Among the Best in NZ's Test History

By: Nikhil Narain

Last Updated: December 10, 2020, 16:11 IST

New Zealand vs West Indies 2020: Neil Wagner Establishes Himself Among the Best in NZ's Test History

Neil Wagner has a great record for New Zealand in Test cricket but his efforts against West Indies again largely went unnoticed.

While Kane Williamson got all the accolades and the Player of the Match Award for his magnificent double hundred which set the match up for the home team, the efforts of one New Zealand bowler, who has been a workhorse for the unit for a number of years, again largely went unnoticed in the series opener in Hamilton. He returned with match figures of 6-99 in 28.5 overs which included three big wickets in the second innings.
Neil Wagner has a great record for New Zealand in Test cricket. He has picked 212 wickets in just 49 Tests and quite astonishingly, has the second-best bowling average (26.31) and strike rate (51.4) for New Zealand (min. 100 wickets) only after Sir Richard Hadlee in their Test history.

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These are outstanding numbers for someone who is not given the same recognition as his more famous counterparts – the likes of Trent Boult and Tim Southee in the current set-up and stalwarts like Danny Morrison from the past.
Wagner has picked 116 wickets in 23 victorious Tests for New Zealand. His bowling average of 20.62 and strike rate of 40.8 is higher than both Boult (21.74, 44.8) and Southee (21.61, 45.7) in wins for New Zealand – this is an amazing feat giving the stature of the other two bowlers and their place in the country’s Test cricketing history.
However, Wagner did not have a great start to his Test career. He picked just 39 wickets in his first 12 Tests at an average of 37.94 and strike rate of 66.6.
It all changed with a Series-Defining Performance (SD) against India in Auckland. Wagner returned with 8-126 in 36 overs in the series opener in February, 2014 (including 5 top-middle order wickets) and played the leading role with the ball in New Zealand’s 40-run win. Chasing 407, India were giving the home team a real fight and had reached 349 for 7 with MS Dhoni and Zaheer Khan threatening to take the visitors to a spectacular victory. Wagner ended India’s hopes as he dismissed Khan and Dhoni off successive overs to effectively end the challenge.
This match-winning and ultimately series-defining performance (the second Test ended in a draw) led to a dramatic transformation in Wagner’s career. Since 2014, the left-armer has a tally of 173 wickets in 37 Tests at an average of 23.69 and strike rate of 48. 8 of his 9 five-wicket hauls (in an innings) have come in this time frame. It is not a coincidence then that New Zealand have the second-best win-loss ratio in this period (after India). They have won 28 and lost 17 of the 54 Tests they have played during this period.
Wagner has had a bowling average of less than 28 and strike rate of less than 50 in all but one of the calendar years since 2014. He has played a pivotal role with the ball in several big series’ wins for New Zealand in the last few years. Wagner picked 9 wickets in the home series against Pakistan in 2016, was the leading wicket-taker with 14 wickets in the 2-0 drubbing of the West Indies the following summer and returned with the maximum 13 wickets in 2 Tests at 19.84 apiece against England in 2019 including a series-defining performance (8-134) in Mount Maunganui. He was also New Zealand’s highest wicket-taker (17 wickets in 3 Tests) in the Trans-Tasman Trophy in Australia albeit in a losing cause.
Wagner has been in outstanding form since the beginning of 2019. He has picked 54 wickets in just 9 Tests and his bowling average of 18.79 is the second-best (after Ishant Sharma) and strike rate of 39.8 is the fourth-best after Ishant, Starc and Shami during this period. Just for perspective, he is better than the likes of Cummins, Boult, Southee, Roach, Rabada, Hazlewood and Anderson amongst others in this period.
One of the reasons for Wagner’s name and achievements not featuring in public discourse is the nature of his bowling. Wagner may not have the same level of skill and variations like a Wasim Akram neither does he have raw pace. But what defines his bowling is his cricket intelligence, disciplined line and length and work-horse like attitude. What he lacks in natural talent and ability he makes up by his consistency. Of the 37 Tests he has played since 2014, Wagner has gone wicket-less in just one! Although he hasn’t yet picked a 10-for in a match, he has accounted for 4 or more wickets in as many as 22 of the 37 Tests in this period – a hallmark of his staggering consistency in the format.
Wagner’s bowling average places him higher than the likes of greats like James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Mitchell Starc, Morne Morkel, Jeff Thomson, Darren Gough, Mitchell Johnson and Craig McDermott to name a few. His bowling strike rate is higher than legends like Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee, Dennis Lillee, Makhaya Ntini, Bob Willis, Curtly Ambrose, Wasim Akram and Andy Roberts amongst others. In fact, it is the 12th highest amongst 54 fast bowlers who have picked a minimum of 200 Test wickets in their career.
Yes, there are a number of other parameters to measure the greatness of a bowler, but surely Wagner does deserve a casual mention, if not anything else, amongst the best contemporary fast bowlers in the world in Test cricket.

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first published:December 10, 2020, 16:11 IST
last updated:December 10, 2020, 16:11 IST