Even willing workhorses need a rest sometimes. The 11-day hiatus between matches in Essex’s fixture list provides Neil Wagner with the opportunity to recuperate before a final burst ahead of his scheduled mid-season departure.
The New Zealand Test left-armer has been the epitome of the perfect house guest in his role as Essex’s overseas player for the first half of the summer: uncomplaining, hard-working and with the results to show for his prodigious efforts.
Wagner arrived on the back of a full domestic season at home, finishing with a three-Test series against his native South Africa before hopping on a plane straight into the English season. It has not stopped him bowling more Specsavers County Championship overs for Essex (173) than anyone else, barring spinner Si
mon Harmer, while only fellow seamer Jamie Porter has taken more than Wagner’s 15 red-ball wickets.
“I’m loving every minute of it here,” he confirmed this week. “I’ve been having a helluva time, making new friends, making new memories, it’s been outstanding. And we’ve been playing really good cricket, which shows why we’ve been enjoying it.”
Wagner started his Essex career sharing the new-ball with Porter, but the return to fitness of Matt Quinn has meant he was reverted to coming on first-change in the two most recent games against Hampshire and Surrey. He admitted: “It’s something I wanted to do. It’s what I do in Test cricket.
“I also noticed that with the Duke balls [used in England], when you come on first-change they tend to seam a little bit more. The Kookaburra ball [used Down Under] swings a lot more from the start. The Duke ball seems to swing a little bit more when it gets a bit of the lacquer coming off.
“For me, I wanted to get back into that role as first-change bowler and do it consistently over a period of time. Then I can work on some things I need to work on, and want to work on, looking forward in my career. And with the balance we’ve got in the team it fits in nicely. The other two are such good new-ball bowlers.”
Not that Wagner has rejected the idea of opening the bowling again from the River End at Chelmsford. “If one of those two don’t play then I’m happy to fit in wherever the team requires and what the team needs me to do,” he said.
Wagner leaves this month to accommodate the arrival of Mohammad Amir, fresh from Pakistan duty in the Champions Trophy, probably in time to make his Essex debut in the home day-night Championship match against Middlesex on June 26.
The precise date of Wagner’s departure depends on Essex’s continued progression in the Royal London Cup. If they win their sold-out semi-final in a fortnight’s time, and with Amir ineligible for the final having not played in the group stage, Wagner’s contract will be extended to accommodate his participation.
He said: “If it happens, and fingers crossed we do what we need to do and go well in the semi-final, I will be staying on for the extra few days.”
Otherwise he will play in the intervening Championship matches against Surrey and Warwickshire before heading to South Africa for some proper R&R. “I’ve got a bit of a break,” he said, “to rest the body, get the body right before our season starts back in New Zealand. I’ve got a bit of a holiday planned – I haven’t had one for two years – and then do some fitness and conditioning before getting back to work.”