CHRISTCHURCH: New Zealand’s first-Test hero Neil Wagner will miss the second and final match of the series against Pakistan and is expected to be out for more than five weeks as he recovers from breaking two toes during this week’s dramatic victory, head coach Gary Stead said on Thursday.
The world’s third-ranked Test bowler suffered the injury — struck by Pakistan paceman Shah Shaheen Afridi while batting on the second day — and needed pain-killing injections as he bowled 21 overs in Pakistan’s first innings and 28 in the second to play a key role in New Zealand’s 101-run win at the Bay Oval in Mount Maunganui.
Wagner’s four wickets included the crucial scalp of Fawad Alam for a gallant 102 during a marathon 11-over spell late on the fifth day, when it looked as if Pakistan could hold on for a draw. Their last wicket fell with less than five overs remaining on Wednesday.
“The injections he was getting were wearing off each time so he was getting less and less [pain-free] time and we can’t have him going through that again for this Test match,” Stead said as the team arrived in Christchurch ahead of Sunday’s second Test at the Hagley Oval. “Everyone knows Neil plays with his heart on his sleeve and he just showed how tough he really is and how valuable he’s been to New Zealand for a long, long time and we’ll miss him enormously.
“We want to be sensible about it. He probably needs five or six weeks of healing now to be right for the end of the season.”
Stead did not name a replacement but said he was considering ‘like-for-like’, indicating another fast bowler ahead of all-rounder Daryl Mitchell, the 12th man in the first Test who fielded when Wagner was getting injections.
But Matt Henry, who has often been drafted in when a pace bowler goes down injured, is in contention after recovering from a hand injury because the Hagley Oval pitch is rated one of the fastest in New Zealand and traditionally offers pace and bounce.
Pakistan stand-in captain Mohammad Rizwan was full of admiration for Wagner’s effort of continuing to bowl in the first test despite his injury.
“I can’t explain Neil Wagner,” Rizwan said in post-match comments on Wednesday. “Eleven overs in a row with an injured toe, he’s a different guy. His aggressions were beautiful. He’s a big-hearted bowler.”
New Zealand captain Kane Williamson, who was man-of-the-match for his innings of 129 in the first Test, praised Wagner’s courage and dedication.
“People talk about the size of his heart but to have a couple of broken toes he was in a lot of pain,” Williamson said. “We were trying to use him when the injection was taking effect. It was kind of unique for all of us, but in particular Neil.”
For Wagner, a fear of needles was greater than the pain of his injury. His determination was to get back out onto the field as much as possible.
“Test matches don’t come easy,” he said. “Playing for your country is never anything you can take for granted.”
Stead, in the meantime, was pleased with the first Test performance against a tough Pakistan side, who were behind for much of the match but were still in with a chance of snatching victory in the final session.
“That was tough, really hard Test cricket and it was good to come out on the right side of it against a tough Pakistan team,” he said. “I thought Rizwan and Fawad’s partnership was outstanding … and they nearly took the game away from us. That’s what makes Test cricket what it is — very compelling indeed.”
New Zealand, meanwhile, need to win the Pakistan series 2-0 to keep alive their chance of making the World Test Championship final at Lord’s next June.
Published in Dawn, January 1st, 2021