With the first Test between New Zealand and Pakistan ticking along at a pedestrian pace on the third day in Christchurch on Saturday, Neil Wagner fulfilled his duty as the bowler who “makes things happen”.
Wagner’s double breakthrough triggered Pakistan’s slumped from 58-1 to 105-7 in their second innings and that he snared his 100th Test wicket in the process was icing on the cake for the left-armer.
Before Wagner’s intervention, the tourists had been trying to slow the game at Hagley Oval with Babar Azam and Azhar Ali well set to lay the foundations for a solid second innings.
Persisting with a short-bowling plan, however, Wagner had Babar caught behind for 29 before an even better bouncer got rid of the prolific Younus Khan for one as Pakistan slumped to 64 for three.
“That’s my job to do that,” Wagner said.
“When it’s not swinging and also conditions start getting a little bit easier to bat, I’ve obviously got to try and make something happen.”
Wagner has been making things happen for the New Zealand side a lot this year.
Originally a line and length swing bowler in his home country of South Africa, Wagner came to New Zealand in 2008 and got on the selector’s radar when he took five wickets in one over for Otago against Wellington in 2011.
After establishing his residency, he was selected for New Zealand’s tour of West Indies in 2012 with Kieran Powell his first wicket in Antigua.
Wagner has often been the third seamer in the side, a role that involves running into the wind, bowling a lot of overs while keeping the runs down and giving Tim Southee and Trent Boult a rest.
In the last couple of seasons Wagner has developed short-pitched bowling into the body as part of his armoury.
Consistently aiming for the ribs unsettles batsmen and coach Mike Hesson said earlier this year it took considerable skill to keep putting the ball in a place that causes such discomfort.
It also results in wickets. While Wagner took 35 wickets in 10 matches in 2013, the last year he was consistently in the team, but this year he has been in arguably career-best form.
In eight games in 2016 he has taken 34 wickets at an average of 21.58. Boult has 31 wickets at 32.51 in 10 games, while Southee has taken 17 at 41.70 in seven.
“I’m not surprised to see him doing exceptionally well. He’s a whole-hearted trier,” Pakistan’s South African coach Mickey Arthur, who watched a young Wagner develop in Pretoria, said.
“He’s a guy, who gives it his all and he kept running in. I thought he was magnificent.”
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