October 26, 2014

'My dream is to win the World Cup for New Zealand'

Neil Wagner on being 12th man for South Africa, moving to New Zealand, his baseball namesake, and who he'd least like to be stuck in a lift with

"It was in England where Otago and Mike Hesson asked me to come to New Zealand. I was excited about it and never looked back" © Getty Images

You fielded in two Tests for South Africa. What was that like?
As a kid growing up it was a dream come true. I was just out of school, starting my career and doing change-room and 12th-man duties - then I ended up getting a chance to field for a few overs in a Test [as a substitute]. It was a great feeling and made me realise that that was what I wanted to do: play Test cricket.

Did you get to keep the kit?
I was given a few training shirts and pants that I could keep. I had to give the Test gear back.

How close were you to playing international cricket for them?
I was miles away. I knew I still had to do a lot of hard work but I also needed to create an opportunity. There was some talk as I started my career that I could potentially make it, but I was a long way out at that stage. I was still trying to establish my place in the Titans team as there were a lot of quality bowlers in the province and the country. I was miles behind the likes of Dale [Steyn], Morne [Morkel], Alfonso [Thomas] and Albie [Morkel] and it was hard to get an opportunity at that stage. I only got the chance to field and do 12th-man duties for South Africa as I was not selected for Titans playing at the same time.

Did you have any reservations about playing for New Zealand?
At that stage, no. I was still very young and did well in the provincial set-up in South Africa, and my goal was to play for South Africa. I did everything I could and performed well and worked really hard. I just couldn't break through and get enough opportunities. The few I got, I didn't make the most of. I felt a bit unlucky, and due to systems and franchises changing and bad timing, I knew I was never going to get that chance.

What brought you to New Zealand?
I went to England to look at other opportunities and a chance to chase my dream as I was giving up on it in South Africa. I wanted to play elsewhere. It was there that Otago and Mike Hesson asked me to come to New Zealand. I was excited about it and never looked back.

You have broken into the Test team. What are your ambitions in one-day cricket?
I definitely want to play. Test cricket is the pinnacle and the form I like the most and that counts the most. But I still want to play one-day and T20 cricket. I feel I can do that. The ultimate dream for me is to play in a World Cup for New Zealand and win it. I've been working hard on it but I haven't played enough domestic short-form games due to Test cricket being at the same time.

"I don't know if I would go any good at baseball but wouldn't mind giving it a crack. It looks like a fun sport"

On April 6, 2011, you took four wickets in the first four balls of an over and another in the sixth [for Otago]. We have to ask: what on earth were you doing on the fifth?
Laughs I couldn't believe my luck - or what was happening! I think I got a bit greedy and tried something else to get a wicket, instead of doing the same.

Did you know that was a world record at the time?
No. I had no clue until later on in the day. The boys in the team made it pretty special, though.

There is a high catch off your bowling. Which of your New Zealand team-mates do you most want to see under it?
It's a hard one to pick out of Kane Williamson or Brendon [McCullum]. I wouldn't mind Trent [Boult] diving one-handed at one too, though. Picking from the three, I'll go Brendon.

What is going on in the New Zealand dressing room during a rain break?
It is really relaxed but there is good banter. There's always a few jokes and some game or another being played, that has been made up by either Trent or Tim [Southee], and a few laughs with that too. We are never shy of a bit of fun.

Who do you try and avoid facing in the nets?
I'd have to say James McMillan from Otago - and a little bit Jimmy Neesham. He loves to let a few slip where he doesn't know where it goes!

Who would you least like to be stuck in a lift with?
Mathew Sinclair.

And who has the worst dress sense? Mark Craig and Nick Beard - the two flatmates!

Tampa Bay Rays have a famous baseball player also called Neil Wagner. What would you be like at baseball?
I've heard of him - I would love it if I could meet him! I've heard he is pretty good. I don't know if I would go any good at baseball but wouldn't mind giving it a crack. It looks like a fun sport.

Who is the best left-arm seamer you have seen?
Wasim Akram.

Where do you keep your first Test cap?
It is in my kitbag and I never take it out. I still use it in every Test and will until the last one I play.

If you had one superpower, what would you choose?
To read minds.