They Don’t Make Warriors like Neil Wagner Anymore

The day has finally arrived when the New Zealand great, Neil Wagner, announced his retirement.

After all, he was fifteen days away from his 38th birthday. How long could he possibly bowl his bloody bouncers on flat pitches through the dead heat in the middle of Day 3?

Well probably till he was 82 or somethin’. Wagner could likely continue to bowl his heart out if his team needed him to till the very day he died.

Because that is what Wagner did.

What Made Wagner Special?

Did Wagner swing it like Southee? No.

Did he bend it like Boult? Nope.

Was he as fast as Shoaib? As scary as Murali? As consistent as McGrath?

No, No, and No.

So what made Wagner special? One word — Grit. Author Travis Bradberry’s quote can be applied to perfectly sum up Wagner’s character:

“Grit is that ‘extra something’ that separates the most successful people from the rest. It’s the passion, perseverance, and stamina that we must channel in order to stick with our dreams until they become reality.”

He has batted for 107 minutes to save a Test. He bowled with a fractured toe once and with broken fingers another time.

Surely he has grit. After all, he famously said, “Unless they carry me off a stretcher, I am going to try and do everything I can.”

You can’t help but love Neil Wagner. He is a fighter. He is a warrior.

Wagner could swing it just enough. He was ultra scary for short periods of time. He could crank up his speeds for a few spells in a Test. And boy, was he consistent with those short ball spells used to trap set batters.

The fact that he could combine these multiple skill sets together over long periods of time is what set him apart.

The Journey of a Thousand Miles

Although Wagner in his own words did not think of himself as the “most talent or most gifted bloke,” he was exactly the type of character that the team needed. One that would give it his all regardless of the conditions or the circumstances of the match.

Someone who would never give up.

His arduous journey to the Kiwi Test cap would instill in him the valuable lesson of perseverance. Born in South Africa, Wagner came would play alongside AB de Villiers & Faf du Plessis in the Affies school team.

Partially due to the quota system, Wagner never got his big break in South African cricket. So he decided to leave his home nation to find a better opportunity in England. Although he had a couple of decent seasons in the County circuit, this did not work out either. It was coach Mike Hesson who sought Wagner’s services in New Zealand.

At the age of 26, Wagner finally had a new home.

Most Wickets for New Zealand Fast Bowlers in Test Cricket

Neil Wagner Stats: The Numbers Tell the Story

Fast forward a decade, one of Wagner’s and New Zealand’s shining moments was the World Test Championship Final win in 2021.

It featured perhaps New Zealand’s best fast bowling unit — Tim Southee, Trent Boult, Neil Wagner, and Kyle Jamieson.

Four versatile bowlers that played their own roles beautifully. Statistically speaking, Southee, Boult, and Wagner are definitely in the Top 5 of New Zealand’s all time bowling list (If you take Vettori out of the list, Hadlee-Southee-Boult-Wagner are clearly NZ’s Top 4 fast bowlers).

In Test cricket, Wagner is New Zealand’s

  • 5th Highest Wicket-Taker (260)
  • 5th Best Figures in an Innings (7/39 vs West Indies)
  • 5th Highest Bowling SR (52.78)
  • 6th Most 4-Fers (22)

It is astonishing what Wagner has accomplished as a first change bowler. Jarrod Kimber brilliantly described in his video essay that “there is no other bowler in the history of cricket like Neil Wagner.” Definitely recommend watching this after this article.

In an era of T20 dominance, Wagner ended up playing 205 first class matches, including 64 Tests. Although he played 116 List A matches and 86 domestic T20s, he never played a single limited over international.

Neil Wagner’s Greatest Moments

As a fast bowler, Neil Wagner was involved in multiple great battles.

My favorite one of them all, Neil Wagner vs Matthew Wade & Steve Smith.

Two characters that just never back down. Wagner kept bowling bouncers, Wade kept taking the blows and later pulled and hooked Wagner. And the leg slip setup to Steve Smith in that series was just wonderful to watch. A great diving caught and bowled later in the series as well.

Another memorable moment was the 1-run win against England in 2023. What an ending.

What Will I remember the Most?

The roar of a tiger. The expressions. The perfect team man.

His energy and the whole vibe. It felt like he simultaneously played for the fun of the game like like an innocent child but also played with the seriousness as if his life depended on it.

What did Neil Wagner teach me?

Wagner taught me to never back down in the face of adversity. Win or lose, but give it every ounce of energy you got. He taught me to tackle problems from different perspectives and keep innovating. He taught me to encourage others while learning from them at the same time.

And most importantly, he taught me to stay true to who you are.

Humility, character, determination. That’s what Neil Wagner was all about.

I will leave you with another quote, this time from the legendary basketball player, Larry Bird.

“I’ve got a theory that if you give 100% all of the time, somehow things will work out in the end.”

Neil Wagner gave his 100% all the time, both on and off the field.

And at the end of the day, things did work out for him in the end.

Neil Wagner, Legend.

Originally published at on March 1, 2024.



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