Neil Wagner will put friendships aside when he takes the field against England. The paceman has forged some strong links through his spells with Essex and Lancashire but for ten days of Test, cricket mateship will be shelved.
Wagner has built a reputation as New Zealand’s bouncer-merchant with considerable success: in his last 18 Tests, he has taken 86 wickets at 23.41, a period which included him becoming the second-fastest New Zealand bowler to 100 wickets.
He also has a County Championship medal on his CV having taken 31 wickets in Essex’s triumphant campaign last season, during which he played alongside Alastair Cook, and will return to the county for the 2018 campaign.
“He’s a great lad, loved spending time with him in the Essex changing room,” he said of Cook. “He’s a top man and I’m looking forward to going back. There has been some funny banter between myself and him even before this series got close so I look forward to playing against him. It will be quite an interesting battle then afterwards we can sit down, have a laugh and talk about it.
“That’s the nice part about cricket. Going around the world and playing with these guys and then against them. You make some good friends and then you have to put that aside, have a good battle and have a beer afterwards again.”
Earlier this season, Wagner took a career-best 7 for 39 against West Indies in Wellington with six of them coming from the short delivery. England struggled with the short ball at times during the Ashes, especially the lower order, so they can expect some more this series although Wagner was playing his cards close his chest.
“It’s summing up conditions, if the wicket allows it and if the ball doesn’t swing you’ve got to try and find a way of getting modes of dismissal or create something,” he said. “We’ll look at some scouting footage in the next few days and plan accordingly.”
For Wagner, this will be his first day-night Test having not played against Australia in Adelaide three years ago. He certainly isn’t getting too wound up by the different colour ball although finds it a bit trickier to see in the field. “It is a bit harder to catch under lights at night, seems to hit your hands a little sooner than you think, so the test will come with that but we’ll try to take a few more catches under lights tonight.”
The prospect of walking out at Eden Park again is also a tantalising prospect. “A lot of guys find it odd being a rugby ground with short dimensions, but the history there, knowing Richie McCaw and those guys ran out there and won a World Cup. It’s a pretty special place. You get goosebumps. The two Tests matches I’ve had there – the England one was probably the most exciting Test I’ve been involved with and hopefully this can come close.”
New Zealand trained in the evening at Eden Park on Tuesday, netting under lights, with Ross Taylor being put through his paces to test out his recovery from the thigh strain he suffered in ODIs. He worked with the physio on the outfield before having a net with coach Mike Hesson paying close attention. The New Zealand camp are confident he will be fit for the Test.