Kane Williamson responds to ugly Neil Wagner claims as storm erupts in NZ Cricket

New Zealand cricket has been rocked by reports Wagner was forced into retirement.

New Zealand batter Kane Williamson has denied suggestions veteran fast bowler Neil Wagner was forced into retirement after an apparent clash with Black Caps captain, Tim Southee. The cricket world was rocked last week by news that Wagner had called time on on his Test career before the first match against Australia in Wellington - robbing fans of another showdown against Steve Smith.

Wagner famously dismissed Smith four times in five innings when the two sides last clashed in the 2019/20 series in Australia, making the timing of his retirement that much more curious. Aussie great Aaron Finch was among those to question why a bowler that had troubled one of Australia's best batters would retire before the series.

Pictured here is retired New Zealand Test cricket star Neil Wagner, who Kane Williamson has spoken about.
Kane Williamson has refuted reports Neil Wagner had a falling out with New Zealand captain Tim Southee before announcing his retirement. Pic: Getty

“I just genuinely thought that he must have been out through a niggle,” Finch said. “The success he’s had against Australia, particularly [against] 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.”

Neil Wagner images suggest tension in NZ camp

It's since emerged there might have been more to the story behind Wagner's retirement, with images coming to light that suggest tension between the quick and his captain, Southee. During a recent Test series against South Africa, Wagner can be seen 'shooshing' someone in a finger-to-the-mouth celebration. He was then captured giving the middle finger to someone - reportedly Southee - during a team huddle in the same match.

The images have sent the rumour mill into overdrive, with former Black Caps skipper Ross Taylor fuelling the fire after describing Wagner's departure as a "forced retirement". “I think it all makes sense a little bit now. There’s no sugar-coating it: I think it’s a forced retirement,” Taylor told ESPN’s Around The Wicket podcast.

“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. I think you do need to plan for the future, but a one-off Test against Australia is a must-win situation. I wouldn’t be looking much further than Neil Wagner. And I’m sure the Australian batters are sleeping easy that he’s not in the side.”

Kane Williamson denies Neil Wagner was forced to retire

Taylor's comments and the images of Wagner and Southee have set off a storm for New Zealand cricket, but veteran batter Williamson - set to reach his 100-Test milestone against Australia - denied suggestions Wagner was pushed out. "No, I don't think anyone is forced to retire," Williamson told reporters.

"I think last week he had a fantastic week. It was reflecting on what was an incredible career. We had some amazing moments in the dressing room. He's just done such incredible things for this team.

"The heart and soul and effort that he's brought to the side, and largely led through that for so long, has been incredible. It was quite a special week for that reason. I think he had a really amazing time sharing that with the side."

From left to right, New Zealand batter Kane Williamson, Neil Wagner and Tim Southee.
New Zealand batter Kane Williamson insists Neil Wagner and Tim Southee are good mates. Pic: Getty

A hamstring injury to Will O'Rourke left the door open for Wagner to backflip on his retirement and play in the second Test, starting in Christchurch on Friday. But the Black Caps have instead called upon Ben Sears to make his Test debut. Williamson insists the mood within the Kiwi camp is "quite good" and did his best to downplay the scenes between Wagner and Southee as banter between mates.


"Those guys are great mates, and have been and will continue to be so," Williamson said. "That was banter in the dressing room and with Waggy and his fielding. He (Southee) ended up putting him down at fine leg, so to get a catch was quite amusing, so Waggy took his opportunity.

"Obviously out of context it doesn't look great, but it was a little bit humorous at the time, and all the players understood the context." The controversy has overshadowed the start of Friday's milestone Test for Williamson and Southee, who is also set to feature in his 100th red ball match for New Zealand.

with AAP

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