Neil Wagner orchestrates Black Caps fight-back

HIGH FIVE: New Zealand paceman Neil Wagner celebrates with wicketkeeper B J Watling after skittling West Indies tailender Sulieman Benn, one of his four victims.
HIGH FIVE: New Zealand paceman Neil Wagner celebrates with wicketkeeper B J Watling after skittling West Indies tailender Sulieman Benn, one of his four victims.

The opening conundrum will continue into the New Zealand A tour of England as Hamish Rutherford left the door open for his rivals during a see-sawing third cricket test at Bridgetown.

Inspired by a four-wicket haul from Neil Wagner, the Black Caps fought back into the series decider and at stumps on day three led by 99, with seven second-innings wickets intact to leave the test evenly poised.

No 3 Kane Williamson notched his 14th test half-century to guide New Zealand out of a tricky spot but must be tiring of striding to the crease so early. New Zealand's best opening stand from six Caribbean test innings was 17, in the first dig at Kensington Oval.

Yesterday Tom Latham, the find of the tour, was guilty of an ambitious pull shot when yet to score. It dropped his series average to 48, still an excellent return with a solitary test under his belt. It's at the other end where the problems continue, after Rutherford notched 19, his highest score of the series.

He faced 51 balls before hovering on the crease and edging Kemar Roach, a familiar dismissal to a good length delivery outside off stump. Confidence and footwork remain a big issue against quality fast bowling.

With Peter Fulton dropped after the Kingston victory and likely to lose his contract in the next fortnight, Rutherford's name will feature highly in discussions between coach Mike Hesson and fellow selector Bruce Edgar. Hesson's extended loyalty to the young Otago left-hander, who has topped 50 just once in 24 innings since his debut 171, could see Rutherford retain his contract near the bottom of the 20-strong list. But his test spot against Pakistan in November must be up for grabs, with NZA team-mates Dean Brownlie and Michael Bracewell and, potentially, Martin Guptill, challenging to partner Latham.

Williamson was the ultra-reliable anchor, after surviving a jittery moment on 10 when he edged just wide of an unmoved Denesh Ramdin. The West Indies skipper was clearly outshone in the glove department by B J Watling, who pouched three sharp catches in their innings of 317.

Skipper Brendon McCullum also dug in after a shaky start where he narrowly survived an lbw challenge from debutant Jason Holder, when yet to score. The Black Caps needed their skipper there at stumps (23 not out) as they hope to add another 150 to their total on a dry pitch beginning to play tricks, in pursuit of their second Caribbean series victory, 12 years after the first.

"It's only going to get tougher to bat on but we know they can come out swinging. Our bowlers are pretty confident what we've done in the last few months. If we can set 250 we'd be happy defending that," Wagner said.

The left-armer lifted New Zealand to a points decision on day three, the first time they'd taken the honours in eight days of cricket since they completed the Kingston demolition.

Recalled after carrying the drinks at Kingston and Port-of-Spain, Wagner showed New Zealand what they'd been missing, a reliable third seamer who kept the brakes on (he conceded 2.37 runs an over from 27 overs), toiled hard with the old ball and produced crucial wicket-taking deliveries. He fooled Darren Bravo with a slower ball, then claimed the big scalp of Shivnarine Chanderpaul, caught down the leg side to a quicker one that Wagner labelled "a bit of a burgle".

The Dominion Post