Ahead of the all-important World Test Championship final, Neil Wagner has compared the WTC final to World Cup final before pointing his regret of not representing the Blackcaps in white-ball cricket. He also added that Test cricket is tough and takes the utmost skills to adjust to varied conditions.
After having begun as a swing bowler, Neil Wagner’s career has taken an upward trajectory, with the left-arm seamer sealing his place as one of the best all-conditions bowlers, owing to his ‘mean’ short-delivery. Despite having played 109 List A games, 76 T20s in New Zealand, his opportunity with the white-ball has rather never arrived.
The left-arm speedster, who has picked over 230 wickets with the white-ball, has never made it to the limited-overs scheme of things for the BlackCaps, essentially remaining as a red-ball specialist. Wagner, in an interview with ESPNCricinfo, admitted that it would always be the biggest disappointment of his career, of not having represented the BlackCaps in the shorter formats.
“Yeah, it is like a World Cup final for me. The biggest disappointment, I guess, in my career is that I've never really played a white-ball game for New Zealand or never been able to crack into the T20 or the one-day game. That ship has probably sailed now and I don't think the opportunity will ever come. For me now, it's about putting all my focus and energy into Test cricket and to be able to play in a World Test Championship final is like a World Cup for me,” Wagner admitted to ESPNCricinfo.
While having expressed his disappointment, Wagner was quick to admit that Test cricket is tough and gives the kick of having to test the skills against some of the best players in the toughest situations. Wagner also pointed out that he takes pride in playing the role of a wicket-taker in this New Zealand setup, with the old ball.
“Test cricket is tough and it's never easy playing in different parts of the world, where it can be challenging. You get to test your skills and ability against the best players in the toughest situations. That's where you want to stand up and make some sort of impact, and I pride myself in playing a role when things are tough. I want to put my hand up and have the ball in my hand.”
Like Devon Conway, who recently made his switch to New Zealand from South Africa, the left-arm made his trip from Pretoria to arrive in Otago, where he found his new home, a country that he now takes pride in representing.
“It's a special thing to be a part of and to represent your country. With my background and where I come from [South Africa], to be able to get that opportunity and the sacrifices that you had to make along the way... it means a lot to play for New Zealand,” he added.
However, during the start of his career he was more of a swing bowler, who tried to pitch the ball up. Over the years, with Trent Boult and Tim Southee staying strong with the new ball, the left-arm pacer has adapted himself to a more uncanny route - with the short-ball.
“I do still try to pitch the ball up when it's required and if it can swing. Like I've shown in the last season in New Zealand against West Indies and Pakistan, if it's required to pitch it up, we go that route. If my role is to run in and pitch it short, we obviously change accordingly. It's quite nice to have been able to develop different skills.”
New Zealand, arguably, are the most blessed sides when it comes to pace bowling, with new talents emerging every other year. Last year Kyle Jamieson made his debut for the BlackCaps, and made an immediate impact on the whites. Not just that, the way he has fit in seamlessly with the others in the setup, the Kiwis have emerged as one of the top Test-playing nations in the world. Wagner had only positive words for the lanky seamer, calling him a nice and level-headed cricketer.
“Jamo has come in and seamlessly fit into the group. He has been nice and level-headed and wanting to learn. And he has played some amazing cricket. So his confidence will only grow and get better as he goes on in his career. It will be exciting to see where he can take it to. He has all the attributes and it's amazing to see how he has fit into the bowling group.”