Cricket: When Blackcaps ace Neil Wagner proved tormentor of Australian great Steve Smith

While Australia's Steve Smith is among the greatest batters of all time, he'll be breathing a sigh of relief over the international retirement of Blackcaps fast bowler Neil Wagner.  

On Tuesday, the 37-year-old confirmed he'd call time on his time as a test bowler after the Blackcaps' two-match series against their trans-Tasman foes, starting at Wellington's Basin Reserve.  

The seam bowling unit will likely be made up of captain Tim Southee, Matt Henry, Will O'Rourke and Scott Kuggeleijn, leaving no room for the veteran.


Neil Wagner celebrates.
Neil Wagner celebrates. Photo credit: Photosport

But should the Blackcaps need a weapon to stop Smith in his tracks, they could have missed a trick by not playing Wagner.  

In 2019, as the Blackcaps fell to a 0-3 whitewash away to Australia, Wagner's battle with Smith was one of few positives for Kiwi fans from a dire tour.  

After an away Ashes series earlier that year where Smith scored 744 runs at an average of 110.57, Smith could only manage 214 runs at 42.80 against the Blackcaps.  

Of his five innings batted in that series, Smith fell to Wagner four times.  

All up, Wagner has bowled to Smith in seven innings of his test career and took his wicket five times in total. And while Smith boasts a career average of 58.03 from his 107 tests, that figure drops to just 16 against Wagner. 

In particular, Wagner's use of the short ball proved effective in ending Smith's golden run, as the diminutive right-hander had no answer, outcaught in all four instances of that 2019 series.   

Of all bowlers from other nations to dismiss Smith more than five times, none average under 30 against the modern-day Australian great.  

Over his 64 test career, Wagner took 260 wickets at an average of 27.57 and a strike rate of 52.7 - a number bettered only by Sir Richard Hadlee.  

However, against Australia, his stats are even better with 24 wickets at 23.04, and a strike rate of 51.9.   

Now, though, Wagner won't get the chance to add to those numbers but backs his current teammates to keep Smith quiet.  

"It's something I've looked forward to obviously [doing] again," he said. "But I've got full faith in the group there.

"They've got what it needs to be a test attack. If I'm not there, the guys are better than me who are picked. I've got full faith in them.  

"I've obviously had a fun time against [Smith], but that doesn't guarantee I'll take his wicket again. He's a class player.  

"The attack we've got, and the team we've got, we'll find a way around it."  

Since the retirement of David Warner at the start of the year, Smith has since shifted to the top of Australia's batting order, and will open the innings alongside Usman Khawaja during the two-test series.