He’s like an old pair of walking socks, a sturdy side table or a functioning fridge. He doesn’t set your world alight, but at least your feet are warm, your brew is well supported and your veg hasn’t gone off.
Last week, against Sri Lanka, Neil Wagner took 3-87 and 2-56. This is pretty much the archetypal Wagnerian performance: plenty of legwork, a handful of wickets, but nothing too headline grabbing. At one point he was clocked at 160km/h but it turned out to be interference from a seagull. No, really.
We once gave Neil Wagner an award for his commitment to bustling fast-medium bowling in the face of being stereotyped as a bustling fast-medium bowler. He’d run through a wall for you would Neil. He just keeps on running in.
Sometimes, in his boisterousness, he bowls himself off his feet and onto the floor, seemingly unaware that in doing so he’s flirting with self parody. Good on him. Who cares if people think you’re Angus Fraser with a surfeit of enthusiasm. Being Angus Fraser with a surfeit of enthusiasm is a good thing.
He’s not in the first XI, but Wagner never really seems to let New Zealand down. He comes in when someone’s injured and he does a job. It’s not necessarily an eye-catching job, but it’s a job. It’s putting petrol in the car. It’s taking the recycling out. It’s scouring that oven tray with all the burnt-on crud. You may only have middling expectations, but Neil Wagner reliably meets them.
After day-night Tests, the latest innovation in the ongoing Australia v New Zealand Test series has been additional opponents. Sri Lanka and the West Indies have been drafted in to keep things fresh, but they couldn’t tip the balance. Australia still had marginally the better day.
New Zealand would have felt confident of finishing the first day in the ascendancy after making 409-8. That is a lot of runs to make on any day of a Test match, let alone the first. However, Australia struck back with 438-3 and it’s hard to see how the Kiwis can haul things back from there.
AB de Villiers’ new hobby
Cricinfo reports that vehement letter-C denier, AB de Villiers, will ‘keep wickets’ for the first two Tests against England – although they do not specify how many. It is a little-known fact, but keeping and raising wickets is de Villiers’ new pastime. He says it helps him get away from the game and relax and he’s looking to become a professional breeder when he retires. De Villiers was of course a schoolboy wicket-breeding champion.
There are also rumours that as well as becoming a wicketskeeper, he might fill-in as wicketkeeper. This may seem a strange decision, but it could be a quota thing. Clearly, you always want at least one AB de Villiers in your side – that’s not the issue. It’s more that de Villiers’ selection as keeper may be a means of allowing other players to be picked.
It strikes us that Imran Tahir has been dropped and if Tahir is out, maybe someone else has to come in. Assuming the first-choice seam attack for the first two Tests will comprise Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Kyle Abbott, South Africa presumably need to bring in a batsman to ‘balance the side’.
Vernon Philander’s due to return for the third Test, incidentally.
As a rule, if people aren’t moaning about the thing you feared they’d moan about and are instead moaning about something completely different, you’ve succeeded. The elimination of moaning is of course not a possibility. It’s like a pocket of air under wallpaper. The best you can do is displace it.
Almost all the whingery following the inaugural day-night Test has centred on implementation of the DRS and the suitability of the Adelaide pitch for Test cricket. Being as those are the same kinds of things that people moan about following a daytime Test, we can only conclude that the pink ball experiment was largely successful.
Unless this is the ruse. Perhaps Nigel Llong was entrusted with delivering a rank decision as third umpire as some sort of distraction tactic. It’s a tried and tested technique. Who among us can honestly say that we haven’t got our sums wrong in a quarterly report and concealed this from our superiors by setting fire to a bin and putting our foot through a monitor?
Those watching the first day of the inaugural day-night Test between Australia and New Zealand will have been sorely disappointed. We were promised slapstick and catastrophe, but got neither. If you asked us to describe it, we’d say it looked very much like Test cricket, only with a pink ball.
The pink ball’s weird. An optical illusion makes it seem bigger than it really is – like a cheat mode of Sensible Soccer that we may well have imagined. But that’s no bad thing. Throw in a large crowd and a beautiful sunset and it was quite a successful day.
If there’s one problem, it’s the names of the intervals: tea and dinner. As Sam points out, this triggers the somewhat tiresome and impossible-to-resolve north-south debate about lunch/dinner, dinner/tea.
To bypass this, we propose night-day cricket. Beginning at 2am and finishing at 9am, the two breaks would be breakfast and tiffin. Playing so early would also allow people to attend the game before work. Don’t worry about the players either. They’re forever complaining about jetlag, so this is no different.
We mustn’t let the traditions of day-night Test cricket hold us back. The pink ball game is crying out for innovation.
Ah, the Waca. Fast bowlers love it because it gives them an opportunity to bowl plenty of overs. Batsmen are terrified of it because of the humiliating possibility that they might not make a ton. The pitch has been so challenging in the second Test between Australia and New Zealand that only two batsmen have managed double hundreds. New Zealand didn’t even get to declare in their first innings.
We’ll stop short of saying that this pitch is unfit for Test cricket, having only recently made the point that you can only truly judge such a thing after the match has concluded. We will however admit that after four days, we’re starting to form an opinion.
Setting that aside for a minute, it’s good to see Ross Taylor making some sort of a comeback. He looked to be the next Kane Williamson back when there wasn’t even a first Kane Williamson, but seemed to have ebbed away a bit in recent times. He lost the New Zealand captaincy, looked a bit sad and appeared to be developing moobs. Things weren’t looking good, but flat pitch or not, scoring 290 against Australia in Australia is a reasonable knock. Maybe he’s been relaxing more and pursuing his other interests.