Neil Wagner: New Zealand’s Relentless Warhorse

Neil Wagner- New Zealand’s short ball master

Neil Wagner’s tactic of bowling short and on the body leaked a few runs against the likes of Rassie Van Der Dussen, prompting critics to think of a change in tactic. His style did create chances but were later the target as Der Dussen pulled and hooked with intent. After a bad day though, is it worth considering a change in tactics?

Probably not as Neil Wagner is known to operate in a certain way. Almost 36, Neil Wagner carved a niche for himself over the last nine years. He isn’t the tallest, but runs in, digs it in short and consistently attacks the batters chest for long periods of time. He is relentless, and bowls very long spells, sometimes extending past the ten over mark, which is massive for a pacer bowling short deliveries.

Neil Wagner with his nerve-racking celebration

His short ball tactic does tend to yield runs as it did in the past. When New Zealand toured Australia in 2019, Wagner was New Zealand’s best bowler, and enjoyed some amazing battles with Matthew Wade and Steve Smith. Even on that occasion, Matthews Wade hooked Wagner to the boundary on many occasions. It is a tactic that works, but is tough to pull off as Wagner relentlessly bowls in the same area for long periods with two fielders deep on the leg-side. The trick eventually makes the hook fail, resulting in the batter finding the fielder out of impatience. The tactic is what found out Rassie Van der Dussen as well.

Since his debut, no bowler has taken more wickets with the short ball than Neil Wagner. To add to his short-ball, Neil Wagner can be quiet intimidating. His follow-through, stare and banter keep the batters engaged, and it was one of the talking points on New Zealand’s last visit to Australia. With New Zealand getting crushed, Wagner continued to pile on wickets, and looked very confident with his banter. His bowling was fun to watch, and continues to be.

The short-ball tactic has another benefit for Wagner, as he tends to use it to break large partnerships. He is a key partnership breaker for New Zealand, bowling first or second change on most occasions. His character is a key feature in his bowling, and Neil Wagner is not hesitant at all to take on the batters. He is an entertainer in Test Cricket and a real bulldozer. He gives it his all, and has even bowled 12 over spells with broken toes.

Neil Wagner finished as New Zealand’s leading wicket-taker on the Australian tour as the other bowlers and batters struggled in a 3-0 defeat to Australia. He was a sole fighter in a tough tour.

Since his debut, Neil Wagner has only played in 58 of the 84 Tests New Zealand has played. He is not a direct pick in all conditions and was recently left out of both Tests in India, but he still remains the sixth highest wicket-taker among pacers since his debut. At the age of 35, nearing 36, his workload may be reducing, and the short-ball may lost some bite, but he will still spring some surprises as expected with his bowling and banter. Batters have themselves enjoyed battles with the workhorse, and enjoy taking him on despite the risk of finding fielders on the leg side.

It may not be surprising though if Wagner continues with the same intensity for a few more years, without reducing his workload. He isn’t the fastest, with bouncers in the 130 range, and has a lot of time in him to continue entertaining the crowd and batters alike.