Andrew Alderson

Andrew Alderson is a sport writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Cricket: Getting back in the swing

Neil Wagner's demotion to 12th man for the New Zealand A match against India A last week raises questions about his international future.

Wagner became eligible to play for New Zealand earlier this year and was promptly included in the test squad to play in the Caribbean.

He played both tests as part of a New Zealand attack which struggled to contain the West Indies batsmen. Wagner took four wickets at 52.25 runs apiece. He remained part of the test touring party to India but wasn't required in the two test defeats there.

In that series, he was behind Chris Martin, Doug Bracewell, Trent Boult and Tim Southee in the pace bowling pecking order. His New Zealand A selection also presumably pushes him behind Brent Arnel and Andy McKay, who made the starting XI. Mark Gillespie will also be in the mix for selection when he recovers from injury.

The status quo places Wagner in an intriguing position. He and New Zealand Cricket have invested a lot in his Kiwi future. His Otago first-class record is outstanding - 137 wickets at 27.27, including six five-wicket bags.

Of those dismissals, 88 have come in the last two seasons when he topped the country's wicket count.

The 26-year-old is not panicking. He remains adamant he has made the right decision to move from his native South Africa to qualify as a New Zealand citizen.

"There just happens to be strong competition in the test bowling ranks," Wagner says. "In India, I was struggling for timing at the crease. I just wasn't at full pace or strength. Sometimes the ball can come out my hand too early and I can't control it. The opportunity was amazing but equally I realised it was a different level; there is no room for error.

"I also wouldn't have got anywhere near the reverse swing people might've expected from me in India. With monsoon rain, the grounds were lush, green and soft rather than abrasive. That meant relying on more conventional swing because the ball doesn't scuff as much. It was similar in the West Indies."

Wagner has kept in regular contact with New Zealand coach Mike Hesson, the man who originally recruited him for Otago ahead of the 2008-09 season.

"I spoke to Hess in India before I left. He said to work on a couple of things like getting my swing to return from good length deliveries and staying aggressive. He is one of the reasons I came here. He has been instrumental in my career and feeds me with a lot of confidence."

Hesson says Wagner is progressing well but despite four recent test losses, pace bowling remains an area with plenty of competition.

"Neil is continually working on improving his wrist position so he can swing the new and older ball consistently," says Hesson.

"The one thing you know about Neil is, if conditions suit and he gets an opportunity in the starting XI, he will never let you down."

Wagner admits he lacks the same impact in limited overs cricket but has worked hard on that over the New Zealand winter.

"I've been training on my shorter formats. Hess knows I can bowl at the death but if I seriously want to move into that type of cricket, I need to work more on my bowling variations, keeping my economy rates down and getting as many dot balls as possible.

"I also worked hard on batting over the winter so I can contribute better at nine or 10 by playing little knocks which can set the game up.

"I'm not sure how long Kyle Mills and Jacob Oram will be around as limited overs bowlers, so if I get an opportunity, I have got to be ready to step up."

- Herald on Sunday

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