Cricket: Wagner's test recall celebrated in style

By Adrian Seconi

Neil Wagner celebrates New Zealand XI's victory against England. Photo / Getty Images
Neil Wagner celebrates New Zealand XI's victory against England. Photo / Getty Images

Neil Wagner celebrated being added to the Black Caps test squad by hitting the winning runs to help seal a three-wicket win for the New Zealand XI against England at the Queenstown Events Centre yesterday.

It was pretty much the perfect day for the South African-born left-armer.

"It is something I've been working hard for," Wagner said of his inclusion in the test squad. "You've just got to keep fighting every day to get a spot in that team and that is what I've been trying to do."

Wagner's cameo of 28 not out helped inflict England's first defeat in a first-class warm-up match since February 2006. It was a fantastic match which ebbed and flowed.

England declared on its overnight total of 256 for nine, setting the home side a target of 334.

Black Caps wicketkeeper-batsman BJ Watling had a cracking game. He took seven catches, did not concede a single bye and anchored the chase with a superb 89 not out after posting an undefeated 66 in the first innings.

Wagner, though, was probably next best. He ran in and bowled with good intent and finished the match with six wickets for 154. He got the nod for the national team ahead of Wellington's Mark Gillespie, who had some success but was also wayward at times and guilty of bowling too many no-balls.

For Wagner, yesterday's announcement means he is step closer to redemption. It is fair to say there was a lot of expectation when he was first named in the Black Caps squad for the test series against the West Indies last year. He had waited four years to become eligible to play for his adopted country and most of the hype surrounding him was justified.

In the last two years before he got clearance from the ICC, he took 97 wickets for Otago at an average of just over 22. He also grabbed the headlines when he took five wickets in an over during a Plunket Shield game against Wellington in 2011.

Seemingly, he had all the credentials to be successful at the highest level and his debut was keenly anticipated. He was quick without being express, he possessed the prerequisite aggression needed for the role and, in the right conditions, could get the ball to swing.

But, in his test debut, he struggled and so did the team. The West Indies won by nine wickets and Wagner finished the match with one for 144.

He improved in the second test at Sabina Park with three for 65. But New Zealand lost by five wickets and Wagner did not get another opportunity until the second test against South Africa at St George's Park in January this year. He took one for 135 and, after three tests, has just five wickets at 68.80.

Not the start he would have hoped for. But with the Black Caps likely to play four seamers in Dunedin for the first test beginning on Wednesday, Wagner should get an opportunity to improve his record.

"I've had a couple of chances and I would have liked to have done better. But I've worked a lot on certain parts of my game. It is just about knowing your game and knowing what you've got to do and then execute it."

- Herald on Sunday

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