Neil Wagner: Lord Megachief of Gold 2019

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Neil Wagner (via Sky Sports video)

Our annual Lord Megachief of Gold award is the highest honour in cricket. The title is recognition of performance over the previous calendar year. Here are all the winners.

Take one average height fast-medium bowler, hand him a Kookaburra cricket ball and ask him to bang it in halfway down on a bland, lifeless pitch. Ask him to do this for marathon spells.

What do you end up with?

Somehow or other, in 2019 you ended up with 43 wickets in six Test matches at an average of 17.81.

Neil Wagner makes no sense at all.

The other contenders

You’re going to say Steve Smith, who made almost a thousand Test runs at 74.23. (Lord Megachief of Gold primarily rewards Test performances.) While it’s not unheard of for an Aussie batsman to win, when Michael Clarke took the title in 2012, he made 1,600 runs, averaging over 100. The last batsman to win was Kane Williamson in 2015 and he averaged 90 without ever once getting a nice long run at an opposition bowling attack in conditions he’d grown used to.

Of the bowlers, only Nathan Lyon and Pat Cummins took more wickets than Wagner. Lyon, who took 45, averaged 33. Cummins averaged 20 but, like Lyon, his 59 wickets came in twice as many matches.

A word for Umesh Yadav, who took 23 wickets in four Tests at 13.65, but he just didn’t have the same body of work as Wagner.

Neil Wagner’s worst performance of the year

Neil Wagner (via YouTube)

Do you want to know Neil Wagner’s worst performance of the year? You’re reading a section headed “Neil Wagner’s worst performance of the year” so we can only presume you do.

Neil Wagner’s worst performance of the year was when he took 2-104 against Bangladesh in Hamilton.

This is, on the face of it, an unremarkable thing, but we’ll give you a little more context because this effort actually says a great deal.

Neil Wagner’s worst performance of the year was when he took 2-104 against Bangladesh in Hamilton, having taken 5-47 in the first innings on a pitch where New Zealand made 715-6 batting second.

That was as bad as it got for Neil Wagner. His worst performance came in a match where he took a five-for on a flatty in an innings victory.

The rest of the year

In the second Test against Bangladesh, he took 9-73.

Then he bounced the shit out of England.

Then he bounced the shit out of Australia.

These last three Tests sum things up

Neil Wagner effort ball (via YouTube)

Winning or losing, no wickets down or tail-enders at the crease, every ball from Neil Wagner is an effort ball.

England reached 455-5 at one point in the second Test. The match probably wasn’t going anywhere and Wagner had taken 1-114. Was he deterred? Did he slack off even slightly? Put it this way: he finished with 5-124.

Similarly, everyone knows how Australian Tests go when the home team bats first. They made 416 and 467 in two Tests against New Zealand.

In the first Test, Lockie Ferguson got injured, so Wagner bowled 37 overs and took 4-92. In the second, he bowled 38 overs and took 4-83.

He has bounced out Steve Smith four times in four innings.

The workhorse strike bowler

Neil Wagner is a paradox. He bowled, on average, 45 overs a Test match, yet took a wicket every 37 balls. His strike-rate is as good as anyone’s. His workload is unsurpassed.

He achieves all this with a stock ball that’s an 83mph bouncer.

It makes no sense.

Neil Wagner makes no sense.

Neil Wagner is magnificent.

We once gave Neil Wagner an award for his commitment to bustling fast-medium bowling in the face of being stereotyped as a bustling fast-medium bowler. Now we’re giving him another award.

Congratulations, Neil Wagner, you are 2019’s Lord Megachief of Gold.

20 comments

  1. A follow-up to my previous post, which says most of what I wanted to say anyway.

    No batsman made a really stupid average. However, I was looking back over previous LMoGs, recalling that the last three or so had been bowlers. Turns out I was a bit off, and the last four had been bowlers. Last year in particular had a stupid number of bowling qualifiers.

    What I’m wondering is, do the batting criteria for LMoG need to be relaxed next year? If the last four years are representative of our current epoch, is a batting average of 70 now comparable with one of 90 in 2010?

    Next year, mind you. This year’s nominee is absolutely delightful and completely correct – not necessarily for his statistics, but for the context behind them.

    1. Criteria? That makes the process sound far more formal than it is.

      True that run scoring seems harder some years, but the stats are just a guide. We usually get a fairly strong feeling for who Lord Megachief of Gold should be.

    2. I think bowlers generally don’t get celebrated sufficiently in awards etc compared to batsmen, despite being more involved and influential in the game in many ways – a front-line bowler will typically bowl 20-25% of his team’s overs, more for a spinner or a “workhorse” bowler, whereas a front-line batsman on average faces a far smaller proportion of his side’s balls. On the other hand, batsmen have to spend more time watching balls whizz part their faces at 90 mph. But bowlers have to do this too, though maybe not for as long, and it’s worse for them as they’re not so good at it…

      On balance I don’t think the run of bowlers/all-rounders for LMCoG has been disproportionate.

  2. Good call.

    Happy New Year, one and all. Here’s to another 12 months of hope and despair. And ignoring The Hundred.

  3. Excellent decision, KC.

    It is a bit of a mouthful though, isn’t it – Lord Megachief Of Gold.

    With the benefit of hindsight, you might have chosen a simpler honorific, such as King Cricket, to describe the annual award winner. You might then have been able to choose a more humble moniker for yourself, such as “Alex”, “AB” or even “The Earl of Cricket”.

    1. You are, knowingly, needling us here, but looking back maybe we could have reshaped the original ‘King Cricket’ award. Hardly anyone would have noticed and it might have held off our own reluctant rebranding under that name.

      Too late now though. Nothing can be done.

      1. I wouldn’t knowingly needle you with this topic KC.

        I’d just finished writing an Ogblog piece which includes a reference to the Earl of Kellie (enabling me to make a very satisfying “Early Music” pun which will no doubt go down like a fart in a two man submarine over at Early Music Central, where anything later than 1750 is normally insufficiently early)…

        http://ianlouisharris.com/2019/12/31/baroque-hogmanay-ensemble-marsyas-wigmore-hall-30-december-2019/

        …and I just though that the Earl of Cricket feels like a suitably pompous yet not totally over the top trumps moniker…

        …oh cripes, did I just mention top trumps as well. 😉

        Very happy new year to you, KC, your family and indeed to all who read and comment here.

  4. This Australian series has been the first time I have seen TGNW in action and I have been very impressed. No batsman has looked super comfortable facing his short stuff, and the fact that he could do it for so long is amazing. In both tests his side did a piss poor job batting in the first innings (not his fault), but he was still trying to get Aussies out in the second innings even though they were just declaration batting and wickets meant almost nothing, and I admire that hugely. Great choice KC.

  5. Any Lord Megachief of Gold of the “Decade”*?

    Kohli? Smith? Anderson? Steyn? Shakib?

    *yes, no year zero, etc.

    1. Seems dangerously close to one of those conversations where people debate what constitutes a “great”. We usually try and steer clear of those.

  6. I like Neil Wagner, and this piece was good so I will try and forget you slipped in the phrase “effort ball”. It is Manjrekaresque and made me feel queasy.

    Oh, and Happy New Year! I am sure 20-20 is the year of Test Cricket!

    1. Yeah, but only to undercut the entire concept of the effort ball with regards to Neil Wagner.

  7. Happy New Year all.

    Top choice this. Everyone has their own interpretation of what Lord Megachief of Gold means. To Peter Purves, it’s about statistics, pure and simple. To Jack Kerouac it was always more about aesthetics. To me, it has to have a strong element of unorthodoxy to it in order to be fully realised.

    The simple truth here is that with Neil Wagner, all three of us can agree. And that’s a rare thing, let me tell you (Purves is just a fucking contrarian sometimes). So all hail Neil Wagner, Lord Megachief of Gold 2019.

    1. I had to look up Peter Purves and/but then I remembered him.

      Learning that he had a ding-dong with Valerie Singleton at one time has taken a little bit of my childhood away for ever.

      1. Concur with Sam. Wonder whether Ged has mixed it up with them having a spot of ping-pong or maybe a sing-song. Unlikely they had a King Kong. Possible Ged was referring to them playing a well-known variant of snooker.

      2. I’ll try to choose my euphemisms more carefully in future.

        Where I come from, boing-boing is even less likely than ding-dong to mean the particular variety of dalliance I was seeking to describe.

        Leslie Phillips might have escaped my consciousness for the rest of all time, but for Edwardian’s mention & link – thanks for that.

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