Ricky Ponting, the former Australia captain, has picked out fast bowler Neil Wagner as a big threat for Australia ahead of their three-match Test series against New Zealand.
Due to the consistent returns from frontline pacers Trent Boult and Tim Southee across formats, Wagner, despite his brilliance in the longest version, often goes unnoticed. However, his numbers since January 2018 – 43 scalps in 10 Tests at 24.00 – suggest that he has been just as effective with the red ball as Black Caps' new-ball duo.
The pacer was particularly excellent in New Zealand's recent series victory over England, where he topped the wicket-taking charts with 13 dismissals in two games. The performance catapulted him to the top five in the MRF Tyres ICC Test Rankings for bowling.
New Zealand win by an innings and 65 runs!— ICC (@ICC) November 25, 2019
Neil Wagner wraps things up in style with a five-wicket haul in the second innings. He picks up two in two, sending back Jofra Archer and Stuart Broad. England are bowled out for 197.#NZvENG SCORECARD 👇https://t.co/IdOtHFVZap pic.twitter.com/HRB3IQsjHG
Ponting believes that while Boult and Southee might depend more on swinging conditions, Wagner, with his deadly bouncer, will remain just as threatening on Australia's bounce-friendly pitches. "If the bowling conditions get a little bit flat, with Boult and Southee in their line-up, if the ball doesn’t move around, I think they might find it difficult," he told cricket.com.au.
"Wagner is the one who’s having a good 12-18 months for them and we know what he’s like – he runs in quick and bangs the ball in and uses his bouncers really well. He’s someone the Aussies are going to have to look out for."
That's his job: He just runs in, and bowls most balls between your hip and your armpit,
Another factor that might make Wagner more dangerous is Australia having faced him just once before. The batsmen will thus be wary of facing him, and are likely to take more time to settle in against the pacer.
The left-arm quick was his team's standout performer with the ball in the solitary Test he played against Australia, in Christchurch in 2016, returning seven wickets across two innings. He registered figures of 6/106 in the first innings, hurling short balls at the batsmen regularly – none as vicious as the one which got the better of Steve Smith.
"That's his job: He just runs in, and bowls most balls between your hip and your armpit," Ponting said. "If you're going to score off him, you've got to score off him with a horizontal bat. How many times do you see a pull shot up in the air, or mis-hit to mid-on?
🇳🇿 Neil Wagner breaks into the top five— ICC (@ICC) November 26, 2019
🇦🇺 Josh Hazlewood returns to the top 10
🇮🇳 R Ashwin progresses in the rankings
Updated @MRFWorldwide ICC Test Rankings for bowling: https://t.co/to2xXUIssc pic.twitter.com/VspDMmFiUS
"They'll use him as their enforcer … What they have is a well-rounded attack. Guys with the new ball who pitch it up and try to swing it and Wagner comes in behind them and bowls fast and short."
The first of three Tests between Australia and New Zealand begins on 12 December in Perth.