Black Caps regret letting chances slip away

MARK GEENTY IN PORT ELIZABETH
Last updated 05:00 13/01/2013

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Aside from the school reunion taking place in the middle of St George's Park, Neil Wagner was kicking himself for a chance gone begging.

The former student of Afrikaans School for Boys (Affies) in Pretoria wasn't the only one - the whole New Zealand team eyeballed the powerful South African lineup and couldn't put them away on the opening day of the second test.

There were chances for the New Zealand bowlers to experience a rare period of dominance in this short series. Doug Bracewell clanged South African skipper Graeme Smith on the helmet and was the pick of the bowlers, Wagner found the edge of Smith's bat and enticed an early leading edge from Hashim Amla, who went on to his 19th test century.

Trent Boult also watched several edges drop in front of the slips, then later should have had Faf du Plessis caught behind on 42. After a summit meeting, skipper Brendon McCullum didn't challenge the not-out decision but replays showed it touched a glove.

Then there was that dropped catch off Amla on 48, a searing cut off Boult to Kane Williamson at gully. It wasn't a shocker but he's caught tougher ones before. It was the critical point of day one and could have reduced the hosts to 152-4. They ended 325-4 at stumps with Amla unbeaten on 106.

South Africa's late-session onslaught, via Amla and du Plessis, gave them the honours on day one as the New Zealand bowlers couldn't maintain the pressure. New Zealand might rue their misfortune but it again showed the class gap between the sides, and the uncertainty and self-doubt the underdogs have to overcome, especially after a hammering in Cape Town. On another day the Black Caps would have taken command and begun day two with a spring in their legs.

"It's pretty frustrating," Wagner said of the edges they generated, particularly against Smith, who scored 54.

"That's part of the plan, to draw him into the shot and try to get that nick and it goes square and doesn't find the slips. That's when you've got to put your head down and be patient and not go searching."

Wagner eventually removed Smith, caught behind down the leg side as he ended with 1-88 from 22 overs.

There was another battle going on for Wagner, too, when AB de Villiers and du Plessis strode out. Both are old boys of Affies, the traditional Pretoria school that churns out sporting stars year by year.

"It is strange in a way, being in the same dressing room for such long periods, being friends and all of a sudden moving away then playing against him," Wagner said.

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"When [du Plessis] got that nick near the end that went for four he just looked at me and apologised. I was a bit angry at that and tried to bump him next ball and he hit me for four too. It's a good battle and again with Faf, he's a top player and any bad balls he's going to capitalise."

Wagner found it hard to stay patient against de Villiers, who scored 51. "Every ball I tried to get him out."

De Villiers relished the chance to play his old schoolmate, who made his first-class debut in South Africa before shifting to New Zealand. He made his test debut in the West Indies and yesterday was his third test.

"It was quite a weird situation coming in there and facing my first ball to him," de Villiers said of Wagner.

"Quite a few memories went through my mind and I thought to myself ‘just stick to the basics more than ever because you can't get out to him. It's going to be all over Facebook and will probably go back to school'."

- Sunday Star Times

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