In a game obsessed with bowlers who bowl fast and swing the ball both ways, there stands a silent 35-year-old Kiwi bowler who breaks all the stereotypes.
He is not as quick as Starc neither swings the ball as Anderson but he is occupying a higher Test Ranking than both. He is currently the 3rd ranked bowler in ICC Test rankings and people may wonder why.
His Test figures look impressive but the impact that this man brings to the table fails to replicate so. In fact, he is someone who stays in the back of Trent Boult and Tim Southee and completes the pace battery for New Zealand and is a major factor in the resurgence of the Black Caps in the longer format. He also finds his name in the record books and is currently the second quickest Kiwi pacer to scalp 200 wickets.
He is like an old school war-horse who runs in and hits the hard length. But unlike the predecessors he is gentler in terms of pace. He is not in the high 140 or nearing 150 club in terms of raw pace. He is not a Shoaib Akhtar who will break the batsmen’s rib cage at one go but he will keep on hitting the batsman till it breaks.
Interestingly, it is his pace that makes him unplayable at times. A bowler bowling short to the batsman’s body in mid 130s is seldom a threat. In fact, it is more like an open invitation to the batsmen to either pull him or hook him out of the park. And that’s where he gets most of his breakthroughs.
Wagner is one of the rarest bowlers who has the accolade of bouncing out both Steve Smith and Virat Kohli in Test cricket. It may be hard to believe but Neil Wagner has bowled the maximum number of short balls in the last 4 years in Test Cricket.
While the likes of Boult and Southee swing the new ball in and out from the batsmen respectively and run through the opponents’ top order, it is the job of Wagner to bowl the difficult spells with the old ball. He majorly bowls from the 40th to 70th over in an innings and holds one end tight. In his career spanning 50 Test matches, Wagner has bowled with the new ball only thrice and majority of his wickets have been middle order batsmen.
He is relentless. He hardly gets tired and he keeps on bouncing the batsmen. In fact, such his is accuracy that even Kane Williamson the Kiwi skipper has admitted that he has made a set template of field placements when Wagner comes in to ball.
( A typical field placement for Neil Wagner’s short pitch bowling)
And keeping faith in his captain’s field placement, Wagner delivers more often than not.
Wagner is a hard-working athlete and contrary to his fellow pacers he generally bowls long spells. In fact, he is the only pace bowler who has bowled the maximum number of spells of more than 10 overs at a go. And mind you, these spells have been uninterrupted without any breaks.