Neil Wagner has waited four years for debut
As you read this, Neil Wagner will be packing to depart on the trip of his cricketing life – a tour of the West Indies with the Black Caps.
It's maybe not exactly the dream South African-born Wagner had growing up in Pretoria, but there is no doubting a New Zealand debut is what the left-arm swing bowler has devoted the past few years to.
"It's something I've wanted all my life and finally it's almost come true," Wagner said. "But I'm not in the final XI yet. I'm in a squad of 15 and we're all in competition for places. I have to do even more hard work now and make sure I get a chance. Then I have to grab the opportunity with both hands and make the most of it."
Wagner came to New Zealand in 2008 and really hit his stride. Stand-out performances in first class cricket for Otago made people wonder if Wagner might one day play for New Zealand. He didn't need to be asked twice if he was interested.
"I'm very hungry for this. The four years I've waited to get to this point have felt like forever, to be honest," Wagner said.
"The team hasn't been going as well as we would like, but maybe hasn't had the preparation that we would like. We've got nothing to lose, we've got to go out and play fighting cricket, real positive and aggressive cricket, and not go into our shells. We've got to back our skills and go for it."
Fans started counting down the days for Wagner's eligibility to play for New Zealand after a stellar 2010-11 Plunket Shield season, where he took 51 wickets in nine games in the competition – including a famous over against Wellington where he took a record five wickets in six balls.
Last season he topped the wicket-takers' list again, with 46 wickets in 10 games. Once the clock passed four years and he was a fully qualified Kiwi, he was straight in the squad for the coming test series against the West Indies.
"Being selected was a massive step for me, but now it's about cementing my place in the side, contributing and making sure we win matches," Wagner said.
"I've been lucky that I've been playing in South Africa where the weather has been awesome and I've been playing out on the grass for a long period of time rather than training indoors, and I think that makes a massive difference, being match-ready for a cricket ball coming at you on a grass wicket.
"There is a reason why things have worked out this way, and I've never looked back after coming to New Zealand. I have been approached about going back and trying to play for South Africa but that was never my intention. I made up my mind, I came over here, and I haven't looked back. Representing New Zealand will be a massive honour and a massive privilege. It's where my path has taken me."
- © Fairfax NZ News