McCullum heaps praise on lion-hearted Wagner

MARK GEENTY
Last updated 05:00 10/02/2014
Neil Wagner
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HUGE IMPACT: Despite not taking home the award for man-of-the-match, Neil Wagner was the real match-winner for New Zealand after taking 4 crucial second-innings wickets.

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No praise was too high for Neil Wagner when his captain labelled him the poster boy for this new, much improved New Zealand test team.

Skipper Brendon McCullum was man of the match for his first innings double century against India but he almost handed the gong to Wagner, whose four wickets in each innings added up to a career-best haul of 8-126 in just his 13th test.

"He epitomises everything we want to be known for as a team; how aggressive and hostile he is with ball in hand and how big his heart is. He bowled a 10-over spell there into the wind late on day four which is no easy feat. It allowed Tim [Southee] and Trent [Boult] some decent down time heading into that new ball," McCullum said.

"He's bowled like that for 12-18 months and hasn't always got the rewards but he's been an integral part of the jigsaw. It was nice for him to get the rewards and the accolades."

The left-armer was surprisingly left out of the first test in Bangladesh in October, then returned for the second with a career-best 5-64 in the heat and humidity of Dhaka when he kept charging in.

A test specialist, the 27-year-old saw off the challenge of Doug Bracewell and played all three tests against West Indies, hardly setting the world on fire but always willing to toil for his skipper as Southee and Boult got all the plaudits. Now he's played in three successive test wins and was the most valuable bowler in Auckland.

It was also a red letter day for gloveman BJ Watling, who racked up 17 catches over his past two tests and a New Zealand-record nine in this match.

He snared six in the second innings and got the thumbs up from his skipper, the former wicketkeeper who jointly held the record of eight catches, against Pakistan in Napier in 2009.

"He had a tough test with the bat but he's been brilliant for us since he's taken the gloves in test cricket. Those catches he made them look quite easy," McCullum said.

"I'm delighted for him, he's a great team bloke and a champion fella and he's getting better and better with the gloves and he'll be delighted to pick up those catches in a pressure situation."

An unchanged 11 for a fourth successive test is likely, in Wellington on Friday, depending on when Ross Taylor's second child arrives. The arrival date falls during the second test and Taylor headed back home to Hamilton last night.

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- The Dominion Post

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