Virat Kohli vs Neil Wagner - the rivalry that is expected to light up Christchurch
Virat Kohli is having a dry spell in New Zealand. The Indian skipper has managed just 201 runs in 9 innings in the New Zealand tour so far, with just one half century. In the first Test in Wellington, the right-hander was dismissed for scores of 2 and 19. He was further not helped by the rest of the batting unit, which failed to get runs on the board, as India were bundled out for totals below 200 in both the innings. The visitors lost the match by 10 wickets giving the hosts an unassailable 1-0 lead in the two-match Test series.
Now, in the 2nd Test in Christchurch, which will begin from Saturday, New Zealand are expected to bring back left-arm pacer Neil Wagner into the playing XI. The seamer has been in terrific form of late, and was only dropped from the team in the first Test because he was on a paternity leave.
Wagner’s inclusion in the team promises a cracking contest against Indian skipper Kohli. The bowler has already dismissed Kohli thrice in six innings - twice in 2014 and once in 2016. Here is how former New Zealand allrounder Scott Styris summed up the rivalry, while speaking on Star Sports’ post-match show after the first Test:
“It’s very easy to look back on any match from both team’s perspective and just say ‘well, did the plan work or didn’t it against Virat’. That part can be the pleasing aspect from New Zealand’s perspective. It’s just not about getting Kohli out cheaply in both innings. It’s also how they got him out. NZ went through plan A and plan 1A on how to get Kohli out - short balls and the good length outside off stump. And what did we see? He got out in both the innings. So Neil Wagner will play into that - in the 2nd match,” Styris had said.
“He does like to bowl short balls, going across the right-handed batsmen in particular. And Wagner is does not have too much pace - he only bowls at 130s - and he has achieved so much success. That is the question with Wagner - why does he get so much success. He is not 145 kph - it’s because he gets the length right. He gets it under the armpits of the right-handed batsman, who then find it uncomfortable whether they want to be defensive, or whether they want to go after him,” he added.
Wagner has also been in terrific form of late, as he has taken 2+ wickets in his 13 out of last 14 Test innings. The 33-year-old has taken 46 wickets since 2019 in the longest format. His record against India is also impressive, as he has taken 16 wickets at an average of 29.12 and bowling strike rate of 50.8. Wagner’s record in New Zealand against India is better than his record against the same opposition in away games.
Speaking ahead of the 2nd Test, the bowler himself talked about his plans for countering the Indian skipper. “Every time I play against him, I always try and target and go for their best players, because you know what a big stride it makes within a team when you get their best players out,” Wagner told Stuff.co.nz. “Drying him up, making sure they don’t score and putting a lot of pressure on him from both ends [is imperative].”