NZ captain says the search for WTC points had made the team push harder for victory
New Zealand’s dramatic win against Pakistan in the first Test, achieved with less than five overs remaining on the last day, had several notable contributions, but the one that will be remembered most perhaps is Neil Wagner’s effort of bowling 49 overs across two innings despite two broken toes.
New Zealand captain Kane Williamson, who has been in the XI in 47 out of Wagner’s 51 Tests, said he had never seen a bigger effort from the left-arm quick. Wagner took 2 for 50 and 2 for 55 in the game, and had said after the third day’s play that “unless they carry me off on a stretcher, I’m going to try and do everything I can”.
Williamson revealed that Wagner had lived up to his words, it being as difficult as ever to take the ball away from him to end a spell.
“People talk about the size of his heart in terms of what he does on the cricket field, but to have a couple of broken toes, and he was in a lot of pain – I want to be careful here because he’s probably going to listen to this (laughs) – but he was in a lot of pain,” Williamson said. “He was going off and getting injections and numbing his foot. We tried to use him when the injection was taking effect. It was kind of unique for all of us.
“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. He just kept running in, and obviously it had an impact on his ability to operate at 100% but he still came in and got the breakthrough like he does for us so often when he’s at full strength. A very, very special effort from Wags, one that the team appreciated. We needed him out there, and he delivered.”
Wagner made perhaps the most crucial breakthrough of the day, when he had centurion Fawad Alam gloving a catch behind off an attempted pull when on 102. That breakthrough had come shortly after Kyle Jamieson had trapped Mohammad Rizwan lbw for 60 to end a stand worth 165 runs which had spanned more than 63 overs.
“He’s quite difficult to take off when he’s bowling,” Williamson chuckled when asked about Wagner getting through so many overs. “To be honest, I don’t look at the number of overs (he has bowled). He was very fizzed, obviously the injections were taking effect and so he was able to run in. He did say that ‘when I get my injection I’m much better off bowling a long spell’.
“And when you add the carrot of a potential Test win, and you’ve perhaps taken a wicket, I know fast bowlers in particular get their second or third wind. He loves it, and he loves having the ball in his hand and it’s very difficult to get it out.”
Pakistan almost saved the day, but were finally bowled out for 271 after batting for 123.3 overs in their second innings, having entered the final session at 215 for 4 with Alam and Rizwan fluent, and all results possible. Williamson said New Zealand had kept pushing for wickets because it was worth going for victory even at the cost of a possible defeat.
“We still had that hope of picking up a wicket and then feeling like things might be able to happen from there,” he said of the final session. “For us it was trying to win at all costs. Going into that last session we still clearly had that opportunity as did Pakistan, and also an opportunity for a draw. But in terms of the context of the World Test Championship, losing it in trying to win it was still a better bet than anything else. It was nice that we were able to come away and be on the right side of it.
“It made for an incredible game of cricket. Another incredible one against Pakistan. We’re two very, very tight teams that have been going down to the wire. Great to come away with the result and the excitement in finishing so late in the piece adds to that.”
The second and final Test begins in Christchurch on January 3, and victory there would put New Zealand on sound footing to finish in the top two of the World Test Championship and contest the final. Williamson however, said that potential incentive was secondary to winning the Test they were taking part in.
“It’s about playing good cricket. The things that surround it and the attention and context which is brought in with the Test Championship, is great,” he said. “It’s given everybody something else, an added spice to Test cricket. But that’s in the back of peoples’ minds, not at the forefront of what we need to control and the effort that needs to go into try and play our best cricket against a very strong side in Pakistan. They showed that out there today and we’ve seen it on a number of occasions that they’re a terrific team in all areas.”
Saurabh Somani is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo