Neil Wagner's eligibility wait winds down
Four months, two weeks and three days.
Those are the numbers left on the clock for what's arguably been the longest countdown in the history of New Zealand cricket.
It is the time left before South African-born Neil Wagner, New Zealand's most dominant domestic bowler last season, is eligible to play for his adopted country.
Had he not been born in Pretoria and only moved to New Zealand to play cricket three summers ago, there's little doubt the strong left-arm seamer would have received a call-up to the national set-up by now.
His 51 first-class wickets for Otago last season speak for themselves, while his final bowling figures of last summer, 6 for 36 in Queenstown in April, include the almost cartoonish record of dismissing five Wellington batsmen in one over.
Yet while the wait has been long and the hype surrounding him constant, Wagner revealed last week that the time spent toiling away for Otago has put him in a position to be at his absolute best as a bowler should John Wright come a-calling in April.
"I see it as a positive thing, not being chucked in the deep end too early," he said. "I've got another five months to sort out my game, learn a lot for myself and become more experienced.
"When I do get selected, or if I do get selected, I'll be pretty much a way better player than what I am now."
Wagner's journey to the slow low wickets of New Zealand is well-known in cricketing circles. The 25-year-old rose up the age group ranks in South Africa before making an impact in the South African Provincial Challenge trophy with Northerns.
National Academy tours to Zimbabwe and Bangladesh followed, as well as going as far as pulling on the whites for South Africa (as a substitute fielder in two Centurion tests).
Yet the quota system meant international options were limited, so after trying to score a contract in England, Wagner landed in Otago with hopes of making it to the top.
With help from Otago coach Vaughan Johnson, things have gone well.
During his spells of dominance, Wagner admits watching the Black Caps and thinking how much he could be helping them. But he has used that as motivation to push himself.
"You do get eager sometimes," he admitted. "You watch games on television, and think, I wish I was playing. But that's what gives you the drive and keeps you motivated.
"For me, the most important thing is to keep my head down and focus on what I can control.
"I'm trying to top what I did last summer, which is kind of a tough ask, but you strive to be the best you can."
Wagner's summer opened up in the same way he finished in April, capturing eight wickets as Otago beat Canterbury by six wickets in Rangiora to open their Plunket Shield campaign last week.
His haul included 5 for 33 as Canterbury were rolled for 61 in their second dig, combining to form a test-level new ball partnership with Englishman Steve Finn, in Otago for a four-game first-class stint before returning to the England national set-up.
Wagner is taking his cricket game by game. Next up is Central Districts at Lincoln University, and then there's the HRV Cup and Ford Trophy one-day series to get through.
The South African's philosophy to making a step up to international level is simple: control the controllables and let everything else take care of itself.
"I just enjoy my cricket, loving being at the crease and bowling with the ball in hand," he said. "If it ends up at the point where you do get a call-up and get selected, I just want to make the most of the opportunity.
"It's been a long wait, a couple of years, but not trying to think about it too much. Just letting everything take care of itself and let life come to me."
Otago take on Central Districts at Bert Sutcliffe Oval at Lincoln University beginning tomorrow. Northern Districts play Wellington at Lincoln University's No. 3 Field while Canterbury host Auckland in Rangiora.
Sunday Star Times