Blackcaps v Australia: NZ cricket legend Ross Taylor slams selectors for forcing Neil Wagner into retirement

Blackcaps legend Ross Taylor insists national selectors have forced veteran fast-bowler Neil Wagner into premature retirement, with a must-win test looming against Australian at Christchurch.

Wagner, 37, tearfully farewelled international cricket last week, before his team slumped to a 172-run defeat against the Aussies on Wellington's Basin Reserve. Even with injury forcing rookie Will O'Rourke out of the second test, coach Gary Stead has looked elsewhere for a replacement.

"I think it all makes sense a little bit now," Taylor told ESPN's Around The Wicket podcast. "There's no sugarcoating it, I think it's a forced retirement.

Neil Wagner and Ross Taylor in action together for the Blackcaps.
Neil Wagner and Ross Taylor in action together for the Blackcaps. Photo credit: Photosport

"If you listen to Wagner's press conference, he was retiring, but it was after this last test match, so he did make himself available."

With O'Rourke dropping out, Stead has turned to another pacy newcomer, Ben Sears, to fill the void, leaving Taylor and former Australian whiteball captain Aaron Finch incredulous.

"I think you need to plan for the future, but a one-off test against Australia in a must-win situation, I wouldn't be looking further than Neil Wagner," said Taylor. "I'm sure the Australian batters are sleeping easy that he's not in the side."

Wagner's career has seen him earn a reputation for terrorising batters up and down the order with his short-pitched bowling, often in unfavourable conditions, and his presence may have swayed the opening test back to the Kiwis, who were thwarted by costly contributions from tailender Josh Hazlewood and nightwatchman Nathan Lyon.

"I couldn't believe Neil Wagner wasn't in the XI," admitted Finch. "I just genuinely thought that he must have been out through a niggle.

"The success he's had against Australia, particularly Steven Smith over a period of time, you can guarantee that the last-wicket partnership wouldn't have happened, if Wagner was there. He would have intimidated Josh Hazlewood at least.

"He might have stopped Cameron Green from scoring as well. I thought that was a really interesting decision."

Wagner's final outing for New Zealand saw him barely called on to bowl against South Africa at Hamilton and he displayed hostility towards his own team, putting his finger to his lips after capturing the wicket of Zubayr Hamza, then taking a catch to dismiss Shaun von Berg. 

Captain Tim Southee spent several moments trying to calm his bowler and later laughed it off as another example of Wagner wearing his emotions on his sleeve.

"It's not only his experience and the way he goes about it, but you know, the opposition... you heard [Australian captain Pat Cummins] talking about the plans they had for him," said Taylor.  "Experience plays a lot.

"If he comes around the wicket to Hazlewood, he might have got him away for a couple of boundaries or even a six, but I think for the prolonged time he would have attacked him for, I don't think they would have got a 100-run partnership."  

Taylor has also questioned some of the tactics employed by Southee, allowing the Hazlewood-Green partnership to drag on with defensive fields, and didn't hold back on his rash dismissal in the final throes.

"When you're a batter, we all play poor shots, but when you're captain, it sends a bad message with the optics of it," he said. "He does get a lot of runs for us playing an attacking brand, but when you're captain, having to look your team in the eye...

"We didn't bat every well as a team, when you play a shot like that, it's hard to look the team in the eye and tell them off."

Taylor's criticism comes days before Southee and Blackcaps batting star Kane Williamson celebrate their 100th tests for New Zealand.

Before retiring in 2022, Taylor was the first NZ player to accumulate 100 appearances in all three formats, and was the leading test runscorer, before he was surpassed by Williamson. He is still the leading Blackcaps scorer in one-day internationals.

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