Wagner's inner dog shows its teeth in victory
New Zealanders 289 for 5 dec. (Watling 77*, Brownlie 71, Footitt 4-65) and 199 for 5 dec. (Watling 61*) beat Derbyshire 154 (Bracewell 4-28) and 227 (Redfern 58, Wagner 5-45) by 107 runs
Neil Wagner provided compelling evidence for his inclusion in New Zealand's Test team by bowling them to victory on the final day of their opening tour match against Derbyshire.
Despite losing his right big toenail during the day, Wagner claimed the 13th five-wicket haul of his first-class career as New Zealand vindicated their decision to declare overnight by wrapping up a 107-run victory shortly after tea.
Bowling coaches often talk of the need for their charges to harness their "inner dog" and in Wagner New Zealand have their own version of the Hound of the Baskervilles. While not express pace, Wagner bowls an excellent length with sustained hostility that few batsmen can enjoy. With his slightly round-arm action taking the ball away from the right-hander and his ability to swing the ball back into them, he demands a stroke more often than most and has a never-say-die attitude that might border on the barking mad but, New Zealand coach, Mike Hesson, later agreed was "a captain's dream".
"Even when it's flat he wants the ball," Hesson said. "He just keeps charging in. He's a guy that can bowl long spells, so he allows us to rotate the other bowlers and he is good at bowling with the old ball. We got some good reverse swing here."
There is something of the pantomime villain about Wagner. While quietly spoken and modest off the pitch, he bristles with aggression on it in the manner of Andre Nel or Steve Kirby. Here, scooping to field a defensive prod from Billy Godleman off his own bowling, he noted the batsman standing outside his crease and attempted to throw the stumps down. Instead he hit Godleman's gloves and knocked the bat out of his hands. Umpire Nigel Cowley seemed unhappy with the incident and called the New Zealand captain, Kane Williamson, over for a chat. But Godleman was out of his ground at the time and, had the ball hit the stumps, might well have been run out.
"I must be the most hated guy in cricket," Wagner, who admits to being a victim of 'white line fever,' said afterwards. "Even my mates hate me when I play cricket. But I take a lot of passion and pride in playing for my country and I'm very aware that every ball I bowl is representing New Zealand.
"Once I step-off the pitch, I'm fine. I'll have a beer and a chat with anyone and I leave it all out there. But I like to create little battles to keep myself going and stop myself from getting lazy."
Certainly New Zealand were grateful for his contribution here. Having given Derbyshire the whole final day to score 335 to win, New Zealand had seen off the new ball bowlers without too much trouble when Wagner was introduced into the attack. Chesney Hughes, unsure whether to play or leave, ending up doing a bit of both and a lot of neither and was caught behind prodding half forward, before Godleman was leg before to a full delivery that skidded on with the arm. Later he returned to have Richard Johnson caught behind as he flashed outside off stump - Wagner's 300th first-class wicket - before Dan Redfern and Peter Burgoyne were punished for indeterminate prods at balls on or around off stump.
Whether it was enough to earn Wagner a place in the New Zealand line-up for the first Test remains to be seen. With Trent Boult, another left-arm seamer, all but certain to play, New Zealand may be reluctant to contribute a plethora of foot marks for Graeme Swann to bowl into.
Doug Bracewell also produced a reminder of his own qualities later in the day. While his first spell lacked bite, Bracewell's latter spells rediscovered the pace he found in the first innings. Impressively strong, Bracewell looked too hot for some of the Derbyshire batsmen to handle and benefitted from two loose strokes outside off stump. He does not gain the swing of some of his colleagues - New Zealand have been practising with the Dukes ball for a month before arriving in the UK and look completely comfortable with it - but gains movement off the seam and has a little extra ability with the bat than Wagner.
With Hesson later hinting that New Zealand would be loathe to go into the Lord's Test without a specialist spinner - "it's quite nice to have someone with a change of pace," he said - it still appears Wagner and Bracewell are fighting for one place in the side. Boult and Tim Southee, who looks in peak form in practice, will both play at Grace Road this week.
"Everyone is always in a bowl out," Wagner said. "It's a great spot for the team to be in. Bracewell is a class bowler at international level as his record shows."
But this was not a perfect game for New Zealand. The top order of Peter Fulton, Hamish Rutherford and Martin Guptill struggled for runs in either innings and Mark Gillespie, despite swinging the ball more than any of his colleagues, failed to take a wicket in 29 overs in the match and confirmed himself as fifth seamer in the tour party.
Yet New Zealand won without ever making victory their aim and gained useful exposure to the conditions without ever allowing personal milestones to obscure their objectives. By declaring both innings, they tested their bowlers under pressure and, while neither went on to make major scores, both Williamson and BJ Watling looked in fine form. New Zealand will play their first choice batting line-up in Leicester in the hope that the top-order can find form before the Tests.
There were some positives for Derbyshire, too. While their captain, Wayne Madsen, admitted he was "looking for more from the batsmen" he could be encouraged by the performance of Mark Footitt, who claimed 6 for 48 in the match - all of them top-order international batsmen - and Alasadair Evans, who showed enough to suggest he is a seamer with what it takes to enjoy a career at first-class level. Both showed they could be considered viable replacements for the injured pair of Mark Turner, who has a quad injury, and Tony Palladino, who has a side strain.
Dan Redfern, with a run-a-ball half-century, also impressed on the final day. Demonstrating some unusual flair off the legs and a couple of rasping extra-cover drives, he thumped six fours in nine balls at one stage, including five in eight balls from Gillespie.
The setbacks Derbyshire have suffered this season have eroded their confidence. But they are better than they have shown so far and, if the likes of Whiteley and Godleman - richly talented but lacking in belief at present - can recover their form, Derbyshire may yet surprise a few teams in Division One.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo