Williamson Breaks Silence On Ross Taylor’s ‘Neil Wagner Forced Retirement’ Accusation

Former New Zealand batter Ross Taylor has said that the retirement of pacer Neil Wagner was a “forced” one. Ahead of the first Test between Australia and New Zealand, Kiwi fast bowler Wagner had announced his retirement from international cricket. The 37-year-old pacer took the emotional choice after a difficult chat with coach Gary Stead during which it was made clear that he was not in New Zealand’s top XI for the forthcoming series against Australia.

The left-armer finished his Test career fifth overall on the list of New Zealand Test wicket-takers, with 260 scalps in 64 Tests.

“I think it all makes sense a little bit now. There is no sugarcoating it: I think it is a forced retirement. If you listen to Wagner’s press conference, he was retiring, but it was after this last Test match [against Australia]. So he did make himself available,” Taylor said on Tuesday as quoted by ESPNCricinfo.

He was responding to a question on ESPN’s ‘Around the Wicket’ podcast about Wagner’s finger-on-the-mouth celebration during the second Test against South Africa held earlier in February, which was his last Test appearance and a visual of him making explicit gestures as the team got into a huddle to celebrate a dismissal.

During the first Test, Wagner did make an appearance as a substitute fielder and carried drinks for his teammates. Wagner was set to be released from the team after the first Test, but William O’Rourke’s injury presented an opportunity of a potential recall during the second Test at Christchurch. Kiwis chose to go with uncapped pacer Ben Sears over Wagner.

Taylor further said that though the team has to look out and plan for its future, but a Test against Trans-Tasman rivals Australia, that too a must-win match, called for Wagner’s inclusion.

“And to see that he is not selected… I think you do need to plan for the future, but a one-off Test against Australia in a must-win situation, I would not be looking much further than Neil Wagner. And I am sure the Australian batters are sleeping easy that he is not in the side,” Taylor said.

Former Australian captain Aaron Finrch also agreed that Wagner could have stopped the final wicket-century partnership between Cameron Green and Josh Hazlewood had he been playing the first Test.

“I could not believe Neil Wagner was not in the XI. I just genuinely thought that he must have been out through a niggle. The success he’s had against Australia, particularly [against] Steven Smith over a period of time, you can guarantee that the last wicket partnership would not have happened if Wagner was there,” said Finch.

“Because 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,” Finch said.

Meanwhile, the Kiwi batter Kane Williamson during a press conference played down all the concerns about Wagner’s retirement, saying that “nobody is forced to retire”.

Speaking ahead of the second Test against Australia, a must-win match starting from Friday, Williamson said, “I do not think anybody is forced to retire. I think last week, he had a fantastic week and it was reflecting on what was an incredible career.”

“We had some amazing moments in the dressing room. It did not go perfectly. Obviously, an on-field performance would have helped but it was so much more than that. He has just done such incredible things for this team. And we have seen the skill that he has and the numbers that everybody sees but the heart and soul and effort that he has brought to the side and largely led through that for so long has been incredible. It was quite a special week for that reason and I think he had a really amazing time sharing that with the side,” he said.

Williamson also provided context to Wagner’s celebration, suggesting that it was borne out of some on-field banter between him and skipper Southee on his fielding.

“Those guys are great mates and have been and will continue to be. That was banter in the dressing room with Waggy and his fielding so he ended up putting him down at fine leg. So to get a catch was quite amusing. So Waggy took his opportunity. I think he thinks that obviously out of context [and] it does not look great, but it was a little bit humorous at the time and all the players understood the context,” he added.

He also cleared all the air on the team’s environment, saying that despite all the external noise, everything was fine within the team.

“Yeah, quite good (the team’s environment). Something that we are always trying to improve and evolve as a team. And it is something we have tried to do for years. You always have different transitions and players come and go, support staff come and go.”

“[Taylor] might know more than me, I am not sure. But I see guys that are giving everything, trying to get better as a team, trying to move the team forward and that is really a focus for us,” he concluded.

New Zealand is 1-0 down in the series.

New Zealand squad for the second Test: Tim Southee (c), Tom Blundell (wk), Matt Henry, Scott Kuggeleijn, Tom Latham, Daryl Mitchell, Henry Nicholls, Glenn Phillips, Rachin Ravindra, Mitchell Santner, Ben Sears, Kane Williamson, Will Young.

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