Celebrating Neil Wagner: New Zealand’s pace-bowling menace like no other

An end of an era as the ICC World Test Championship 2021 winner called time on his illustrious 12-year-long international career, featuring 64 Test matches, 260 wickets, and moments of grit alongside vein-popping celebrations.

By Garima Srivastava

Ahead of the upcoming ICC World Test Championship series against Australia, the 37-year-old Blackcaps pacer announced his surprise retirement from international cricket in an emotional press conference. “It’s not easy to step away from something you’ve given so much to and got so much out of,” he expressed, and added that, “it’s now time for others to step up and take this team forward.”

New Zealand quick announces surprise retirement

An experienced pace attack that featured the likes of legendary pair Trent Boult and Tim Southee, the reliable Matt Henry, as well as Kyle Jamieson, Wagner added a whole new dimension to New Zealand’s approach.

In flashback, imagining Wagner preparing to deliver the ball in Tests, is a memorable sight for the ardent fans of the game. From the moment he began preparing to bowl, running towards the batter with hunger for wickets in his eyes, exchanging stares with his opponent, absorbing the essence of Test cricket.

Occasionally, he would greet the batter with a smile, in a very Blackcaps style, however, when he claimed a wicket, adrenaline spiked, fists clenched tightly, veins pulsated with pride. The beast among New Zealand’s smiling pace-bowling assassins would awaken.

Wagner tricks Jadeja | WTC21 Final | Ind v NZ

Throughout his career, there have been numerous match-winning performances, crucial match-saving displays, and unforgettable moments. Here, we'll highlight some of these:

A key architect in the formation of a famous win against India in Auckland, 2014


From being Brendon McCullum’s third seamer to becoming his primary protagonist with the ball in the Auckland Test against India, Neil Wagner made a significant stride in his Test career with an impressive performance in 2014. In India’s first innings, Wagner returned quality figures of 4/64 in 11 overs. India were bowled out for 202 in reply to New Zealand’s mammoth 503.

In their second outing with the bat, the hosts were bundled out for 105, and the target for India was 407. While it appeared to be a formidable challenge for the visitors, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli admirably anchored the innings with a solid third-wicket stand. In the afternoon session on Day 4, as the partnership was growing, McCullum replaced Ish Sodhi with Wagner, and the experiment worked.

The pacer managed to break the century partnership and claimed the prized scalp of Virat Kohli for 67. He later snared probably that innings’ biggest wicket that of Shikhar Dhawan for 115 with a lethal bouncer. And he completely turned the game in New Zealand’s favour, guiding them to a famous win by 40 runs with his fourth-innings spell of 4/62.

A career-best match innings figures of 7/39 against West Indies in Wellington, 2017


On the opening day of the first Test of the series, West Indies got off to a steady start. In search of their first breakthrough, the then Blackcaps Test captain Kane Williamson handed over the ball in the 18th over to Neil Wagner to deploy his short-ball tactics. Only in his third over of the day, Wagner drew the first blood in the form of Kraigg Brathwaite off a bouncer.

He went on to claim six more wickets in the innings as he ripped through West Indies lineup with a career-best performance. He claimed two more wickets in the second outing, and was adjudged Player of the Match for his bowling brilliance that powered his side to an innings-and-67-run victory.

A fiery battle: Wade vs Wagner under the lights in Perth, 2019

The three-match Test series in Australia between the Trans-Tasman rivals may have ended with the Aussies sweeping it by a 3-0 margin, but Wagner’s bouncers especially against Matthew Wade certainly made the headlines. The duo were involved in an exciting battle during the last hour of the final session of Day 3.

“Keep coming, big boy,” Wade was quoted as saying during the match when one of Wagner’s short deliveries hit him. The battle continued for quite some time, with the batter sledging the pacer as he dealt with his back-to-back bouncers.

It was one of Wagner’s best spells, displaying what he did best – initimidating the opposition.

Bowling through with fractured toes against Pakistan in Mount Maunganui, 2020


“Unless they carry me off on a stretcher, I'm going to try and do everything I can,” said Wagner after spending an entire day bowling with fractured toes. The pacer was hit on his right foot by a Shaheen Afridi Yorker on the morning of Day 2. Despite that, he continued playing the Test, surviving the fight through painkillers and injections.

And his dedication led to such a dramatic turn of events that New Zealand won the Test with less than five overs remaining on the final day, making it one of their most famous Test wins. Kane Williamson in his post-match press conference lauded the left-arm pacer’s efforts: “His appetite and motivation to be out there and try and make a difference for the team is huge. I think we haven't seen any bigger than the effort he put in across this Test match with a couple of broken toes."

Wagner returned 2/50 and 2/55 in the game - two wickets in each innings alongside two broken toes.

A famous one-run victory against England in Wellington, 2023

It was ecstasy for New Zealand against England as they won this Test by the barest of all margins – one run! And the architect of this win was none other than Neil Wagner.

England came into the second Test of the two-match series with a 1-0 lead, hoping to win their first Test series in New Zealand since 2008.

They were dominant with the bat and registered 435/8d in the first innings batting first. New Zealand were bowled out for 209 and interestingly were asked to follow on. A stronger reply with the bat led by skipper Kane Williamson’s century took them to a second innings total of 483. England needed 258 runs to win.

England appeared to be in control of the chase with Joe Root leading the attack and Ben Stokes as his partner despite losing wickets early on Day 5. However, Wagner changed the script, crafting a story destined to be remembered for years to come. On the final day, he claimed the big wicket of Stokes, breaking the 121-run partnership with Root, and in his next over, he had Root caught for 95.

It all came down to the wire with England needing only two runs with just a wicket in hand. This was the moment when Wagner scripted the famous win, dismissing the last man, James Anderson, caught behind.

The passion with which Wagner bowled, the implementation of fiery bouncers, the energy in his celebrations - his absence will be felt in the Blackcaps camp as well as in the cricketing world.

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