Neil Wagner bowled incisively against India at Auckland © Getty Images
India were denied victory in the first Test by two poor umpiring calls and some good bowling by the New Zealand bowlers. Neil Wagner was the star for the Kiwis as he took four wickets in India’s run-chase. Trent Boult and Tim Southee have been earmarked as New Zealand’s pace spearheads heading into the future. Shrikant Shankar feels that Wagner is not far behind and with consistent performances, he can make New Zealand’s bowling department much better.
Neil Wagner has most of the times gone under the radar for New Zealand over the past one year. Trent Boult and Tim Southee have shared all the limelight for New Zealand’s better bowling displays in recent history. But Wagner is proving to be equally important for the Kiwis. Wagner is a left-arm medium-fast bowler who can bowl long spells and can swing the ball both ways. While Boult and Southee have run through oppositions, Wagner has taken some key wickets too.
Against India in the first Test in Auckland, Wagner proved to be the major difference when it came to New Zealand’s bowling. Wagner took four wickets in both of India’s innings as New Zealand won the match by a close margin of 40 runs on February 9, 2014. He had taken the wickets of Murali Vijay, MS Dhoni, Zaheer Khan and Mohammed Shami in the first innings. This showcased that he could take lower-order wickets and also dismiss some top batsmen on the way.
In the second innings, Wagner took the wickets of Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Dhoni and Zaheer. This showed that Wagner can take the wickets of top-order batsmen and especially when they are set. Dhawan was batting on 115 and Kohli was on 67 when Wagner dismissed both of them. He ran in hard and bowled some effort deliveries. Wagner is not the fastest, but he made the ball move and at fairly decent speeds. He used the short ball well and varied his pace quite well in the end.
A return of eight wickets in any Test match is considered to be really good and when it helps the team win a close match, it becomes even better. When India were closing in on the 407-run target, New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum used Wagner in two ways. He either gave him short spells to give his all or long spells to keep a check on the flow of runs. Wagner was expensive in the first innings, but in the second innings, he was New Zealand’s most economical bowler and that proved to be a crucial factor too.
Wagner is also known to take wickets at crucial junctures of a match. Last year in Auckland against England, Wagner claimed the wickets of Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell to almost help New Zealand win the Test and the three-match series, but it finished 0-0. He also dismissed Kevin Pietersen twice in the same series in Wellington. One of the dismissals was a first-ball duck. Even Shivnarine Chanderpaul has fallen to the swing of Wagner.
He is nowhere near the finished product, but he is relatively new to Test cricket. Wagner has only played in 13 Tests, so, the more he plays, the better he will get. India’s loss in the first Test can also be attributed to two controversial umpiring decisions, but Wagner’s efforts cannot be taken away lightly. He bowled well and deserved those wickets he snared. India have a third bowler to contend with, if they are to win the second Test starting from February 14 in Wellington.
(Shrikant Shankar is a writer/reporter at CricketCountry.com. Previously he has done audio commentary for various matches involving India, Indian Premier League and Champions League Twenty20 for ESPNSTAR.com. You can follow him on Twitter @Shrikant_23)