The Great Neil Wagner investigates

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Neil Wagner (via Sky Sports video)

Way, way back in the smog of time, before the rhino got its horn and when the octopus was but a quadropus, the Goddess of Creation set about building some people.

These weren’t just normal people, like that guy you saw but didn’t actually notice when you were on the way to work the other day. These were exceptional people; people who embodied certain admirable but also niche qualities.

When she created the person who represented indefatigable spirit, that person was a cricketer of average height who bowled with his left-arm at unremarkable pace.

At one point in the second Test, Neil Wagner had taken 1-114. Most people’s efforts would have tailed off by this point, partly through erosion of their spirit and partly because wickets taken when a team is pushing for a declaration don’t feel as valuable, so it can feel a little unbecoming to really strive for them.

Neil Wagner is undeterred by those sorts of things. Neil Wagner bowls one way and one way only: with maximum effort.

The committed investigator is a literary and cinematic trope. For every Sherlock Holmes making brilliant and unlikely connections, there is an investigative labourer; a person who maybe isn’t that smart, but who simply cannot leave things alone. These people get the job done through persistence and dog-with-a-bone tenacity.

As often as not, they’re a detective. Other times they’re an investigative journalist or a pure-of-heart lawyer. If it’s a film, there’s a good chance they’ll be played by Mark Ruffalo. In Spotlight, he’s a journalist investigating child sex abuse by Catholic priests (“It’s time! They knew. And they let it happen. To kids!”); in Dark Waters, which we haven’t actually seen yet, he’s a lawyer investigating US firm DuPont and the release of a toxic chemical into the water supply; and in Zodiac, he’s your textbook detective who’s obsessed with a serial killer (although Jake Gyllenhaal’s political cartoonist is way more obsessed and so rather overshadows him in that one.)

Stories about committed investigators mostly work the same way. The person tries to work out what’s going on and they carry on trying to work out what’s going on no matter what obstacles are put in their path. They are single-minded people. When partners leave them and powerful people come and try and stop them, they persist.

There tends to be a somewhat qualified happy ending. The committed investigator will have sustained a lot of personal damage, but they will tend to emerge at least part way vindicated. Was it a win? Probably not. Was it worth it? Who knows – but it probably wasn’t an outright defeat.

Flat pitch, fast-medium pace, no great height – he really shouldn’t have succeeded but yet after 35.5 overs of knuckle balls and bouncers Neil Wagner somehow finished with 5-124.

It was yet another example of the most indefatigable spirit in cricket. That’s why we call him The Great Neil Wagner.


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  1. I for one would watch a TGNW detective series where he solves fairly low-stakes New Zealand crimes with a needless level of obsession and commitment.

    “Neil, you’ve not been home in three days, get some rest”
    “I’ll rest when the case is solved, not before…”
    [sigh] “…it’s only a theft of memorabilia from the Hobbiton visitor centre, Neil”

    1. When up late at night I would sometimes listen to NZ domestic first-class cricket via the medium of internet radio. I don’t know if this is possible any more, or even if their Plunket Shield still gets radio coverage. The adverts were “educational” – lots and lots of adverts for fencing, sheep feed and similar services (took a bit for it to click the fencing ads were talking about agricultural fences rather than the back garden sort) and then some totally incongruous adverts for escort services (which I guess would have worked better on a more visual medium like internet ads – as radio ads I don’t think the appeal was quite there, to abuse a cricketing term). Prostitution being entirely legal in NZ of course. Can imagine TGNW investigating a case of sheep-rustling though.

  2. Somerset fans will remember that TGNW started Essex on their 2017 title run by bouncing out Somerset’s top order in their second innings at Taunton.

    He’s such a fantastic cricketer to watch

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