Cricket: Wagner saga to continue

By Andrew Alderson

It could be December before Neil Wagner can play. Photo / Paul Estcourt
It could be December before Neil Wagner can play. Photo / Paul Estcourt

The Neil Wagner eligibility saga looks set to extend until October, and possibly December, if the International Cricket Council refuses to grant him dispensation to play for New Zealand earlier.

The situation has created angst in national selection circles as the 26-year-old left-armer's remarkable bowling performances, particularly in first-class matches, over the past four seasons, would appear to make him a certainty for selection when declared eligible.

His Otago first-class record is phenomenal - 137 wickets at 27.27 including six five-wicket bags. Of those dismissals, 88 have come in the last two seasons where he also topped the country's wicket count. New Zealand Cricket is eager to pin the ICC to determine a fixed date from which Wagner will be eligible and are hopeful an announcement will be made this week.

Regardless of where blame is apportioned for the confusion - whether it is at Wagner for miscalculating his circumstances or New Zealand Cricket for not clarifying the situation sooner - the reality is he has still not met the four-year stand-down period to play for anyone other than his home country South Africa.

The issue appears to have been clouded by Wagner's misconception that because he left South Africa permanently in April 2008, the four-year stand-down also started then. His working visa in New Zealand actually started in October 2008, meaning he has a further six months to serve.

Questions have also been raised over his residency in New Zealand during the past four years. There was confusion whether he needed to be in New Zealand 183 days a year or 183 consecutive days. The ICC player eligibility regulations indicate simply a "minimum of 183 days" which Wagner has done. That rule should make the six-day attendance at his brother's wedding in December 2008 irrelevant because he still resided in New Zealand for the required time.

The 2009 Champions League excursion would also appear surmountable. Wagner's work for Otago at that tournament met the requirements of his employer under the working visa. The "exceptional circumstances" section in the eligibility rules says players can get a dispensation if they play international matches or if it is an ICC event. Wagner was playing international matches but the Champions League is not an ICC event, although it is backed by the cricket boards of India, South Africa and Australia. The ICC will need to decipher the legalese on that one.

On the upside, Wagner's enthusiasm to play for New Zealand is not daunted. "I'm still patient; I guess I'll rest my body, do the necessary maintenance work in the gym and keep striving towards playing international cricket," he said.

The ICC may question his commitment to reside in New Zealand. In the past Wagner would use his working visa to stay in the country for just over six months (generally October to mid-April) but would spend most of the rest of the year in South Africa where he continues to have strong family links.

"In the past I didn't stay any longer than my initial working visa because I wouldn't have earned any extra money to live on. Instead I would train outdoors all winter on grass in South Africa, do a few coaching jobs and visit family.

"This year I intended to go back [to South Africa] for a month but extend my working visa and return to train with the Otago guys through winter. I've also bought a house in Dunedin and was hoping to live in it. At this rate I might be best to look for some tenants [until the issue resolves itself]."

- Herald on Sunday

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