Cricket: Wagner a chance for test start

By David Leggat in Port Elizabeth

Neil Wagner. Photo / Paul Estcourt
Neil Wagner. Photo / Paul Estcourt

Left armer Neil Wagner's chances of making the second test against South Africa may have taken a jump, if observing today's New Zealand training session is any sort of guide.

New Zealand used left armer Trent Boult, Doug Bracewell and the senior man, Chris Martin in the first test loss at Cape Town last week.

At training on the practice facilities beside St George's Park, Otago's Pretoria-born Wagner was given first crack when the net session began. Martin, meanwhile, was doing fielding practice on the oval, then biding his time.

It may have been nothing more than rotating bowlers so all the seamers get an equal crack.

But Wagner, who has 260 first-class wickets at a fine 24.50 runs each, warmed to his challenge of impressing captain Brendon McCullum.

His only tests came in the West Indies midway through last year, and he took four expensive wickets in the two matches.

Before moving to New Zealand, Wagner played with and against South African players, including their wicketkeeper and top class batsman AB de Villiers.

He spoke highly of Wagner today, was sure he'd do well in international cricket. But de Villiers struck a reasonable point when wondering if, with Trent Boult already ensconced as the new ball go-to bowler, two left arm seamers might be one too many.

There's no doubt the energy of the New Zealand bowlers has been raised since Cape Town. Several batsmen were given a hurry-up in the nets today.

"We've been training pretty hard and the intensity's gone up another notch, which is always a good thing," Boult said.

"We need to stick to our plans and what we've been talking about, and that's being patient and trying to outlast our opponents. It's about keeping it simple and not getting too far ahead of ourselves."

Patience is regarded as a key attribute in Port Elizabeth and by general consent the pitch will be lower and slower than Newlands, runs harder to come by, wickets harder to get.

"You'll probably see run rates a bit lower," de Villiers said.

"You've got to fight at this ground for your rewards."

One school of thought is that St George's Park pitch bears closest resemblance to New Zealand strips among the South African grounds in its playing characteristics.

De Villiers, who made his test debut in Port Elizabeth nine years ago, wouldn't go that far but made it clear his team are expecting the visitors to be much more resilient rivals than in Cape Town.

"They've always been a fighting team, never let go, never say die, very similar to us.

"Unfortunately that first session (when New Zealand were dismissed for 45) cost them a bit."

New Zealand don't have to contend with the injured Vernon Philander in Port Elizabeth, but his replacement, Rory Kleinveldt, has a good record in limited appearances at the ground and is determined to make his mark.

"The (pre-Christmas) Australian tour was very important for me, a very tough learning curve. I'm just happy to get another chance," he said.

Be patient, generally bowl straighter than at Newlands and expect to have to toil more for the wickets is his thinking on what to expect at St George's Park.

Kleinvelt joined the New Zealand admiration society, too, reckoning they batted "really well" in the second innings at Cape Town.

"Their confidence will be quite high coming off that so we've got to be on the money come Friday."

New Zealand will look at South Africa's record at Port Elizabeth and get some solace.

Their hosts have lost the last three tests at the ground, and have won just eight and lost 11 of 23 tests at the ground.

- NZ Herald

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