Wagner 'eternally grateful' to Otago

Neil Wagner in full flight for the Otago Volts against Central Districts at the University Oval last November. Photo: Peter McIntosh
Neil Wagner in full flight for the Otago Volts against Central Districts at the University Oval last November. Photo: Peter McIntosh
The last thing an Otago batsman would want to see is Neil Wagner tearing in from the other end.

But that nightmare scenario will be a reality this summer.

The Black Caps test bowler has switched allegiances and will turn out for Northern Districts this season.

It was not an easy decision for the South African-born left-armer. Since transferring to the province in 2008, he has played for Otago with all the pride and passion we have seen him show in the international arena.

But Wagner and his wife, Lana, have recently moved to Tauranga, and logistically he felt it was going to be too difficult to remain playing for the Volts.

''It's extremely tough to leave Otago, a region that has been extremely good to me and I've been honoured to represent,'' Wagner said in a statement.

''Otago Cricket gave me my first opportunity in New Zealand and for that I'll be eternally grateful.

''I want to thank all my past and present team-mates, the staff at Otago Cricket and the Otago fans for the support they've given me over the past 10 years.

''Otago will always hold a special place in my heart.''

Wagner's departure comes a week after veteran Otago wicketkeeper Derek de Boorder announced he was accepting a job in Wellington and was pulling out of the contracting process.

De Boorder has not shut the door on his cricket career and may still play for Otago in the future.

Replacing the likes of Wagner is an impossible challenge. The 32-year-old built an impressive career for the Volts, particularly in first-class cricket, where he took 277 wickets at an average of 26.37.

Only two players have taken more wickets for the province. Left arm spinner Stephen Boock is at the top of the list with 399 wickets, and Alexander Downes took 287 wickets during a remarkable career which spanned 27 seasons.

Among Wagner's many highlights were the five wickets he took in one stunning over in Queenstown seven years ago.

In those days he used swing as much as bounce and ripped through a dumbfounded Wellington middle order to capture the world record for wickets in an over.

He was called up for the national side the following year, having served a four-year qualification period. The rest of the country could now watch him hustle in and give every delivery everything he had.

His gas tank never seemed to run out and his ability to find the exact spot on the pitch he needed to hit to make batting difficult is quite extraordinary.

Otago was obviously hoping he would use that wonderful stamina and talent for the province for a bit longer.

But there is no animosity about his departure. Otago Cricket Association chief executive Mike Coggan said Wagner had been a loyal servant and left with the association's best wishes.

''It is sad, but at the same time we are completely supporting Wags and what he has chosen to do,'' Coggan said.

''He has been amazing for Otago during the past decade and he will be very, very hard to replace.

''It is the end of an era in some ways, but we wish him all the best.

''All franchises go through a period where they lose quality players and that time is now for us.''

Volts coach Rob Walter has been saddled with the mission of finding a replacement. In all likelihood that player will come from Otago's burgeoning crop of young seamers.

But there is no replacing Wagner, really. It will be more about making do, Walter said.

''You can never replace those guys,'' Walter said.

''He has been a massive contributor and an ambassador for Otago cricket in my opinion. He is certainly a guy that people relate to in terms of his energy and his effort when he plays the game.

''Those are all admirable qualities that will be missed in our team.

''He would have changed the environment along the way by just being who he is, and now it is up to the guys left behind to step up and fill that void.''

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