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
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
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.