NEW Zealand international Neil Wagner will return to Essex in May after agreeing to play for the county champions in 2018.

The 31-year-old, who will be available for all formats of the game, made an excellent impression on and off the pitch in 2017.

He will initially sign until the end of July, with Essex having the option to extend his contract for the duration of the season subject to New Zealand Cricket approval.

And Wagner, who is currently ranked seventh in the ICC Test Bowling Rankings, said he was thrilled to return to the county he called home in 2017.

Wagner said: “Once I knew there was an opportunity to come back to Essex, I was very keen to get back to Chelmsford and build on the hard work and success of last season.

“Everyone at the club made me feel welcome last year, from the members to the commercial team, and I absolutely loved my time there.

“The squad and coaching staff were brilliant with me and I am looking forward to catching up with the friends I made and bringing more success to such a special club.”

Wagner has also impressed over the winter for the New Zealand Test team, taking a career best 7-39 against West Indies last November.

The Kiwi took 31 wickets, including best figures of 6-48, as Essex romped to a first Championship title for 25 years.

And head coach Anthony McGrath said Wagner understands the set-up he is returning to.

“We have been working hard on bringing Neil back for a while,” said McGrath. “His performances were excellent last season and he offers something to the squad with both bat and ball.

“Off the field he was very much a popular member of the squad and he brings international experience to our exciting group of young bowlers.

“He showed great commitment to the club last year and was integral to what we achieved.

“From the minute he joined he understood exactly what Essex is all about, and we are looking forward to welcoming him back this year.”