From SA to NZ: Kruger van Wyk chases Test dream
Six years ago, Kruger van Wyk was one of the frontrunners in the succession race for South Africa's wicket-keeping gloves. On Thursday, he may make his Test debut for New Zealand and will probably not have the gloves on when he does.
van Wyk has been included in New Zealand's squad to play Zimbabwe and will likely play as an opening batsman. If he does, it will complete a journey that started in Centurion and ended at Central Districts as van Wyk traversed continents to make his international debut.
"I am really pleased to have been included in the squad," van Wyk told ESPNcricinfo. "It's something I've worked for so hard and sacrificed so much just to get a foot in the door." His forfeitures have included leaving his home country, moving states in a foreign one and hovering on the fringes of a national side for almost four seasons before finally getting a look in. Unlike the more glamorous South African exports, like Kevin Pietersen and Jonathan Trott, van Wyk did not muscle his way into his adoptive side but quietly ground away.
Like Grant Elliott, another South African who played for New Zealand, he will make a quiet entrance into international cricket without much needle for his former country, which he could end up playing against later this year. He has not made outlandish statements about leaving South Africa but explained that professionally it was the best route for him.
Mark Boucher's monopoly over the wicket-keeping position meant that however close van Wyk got, he was still a gulf away and he eventually decided to seek opportunity elsewhere. "I wanted to test my skills in a different environment," van Wyk said.
Then-Titans coach Dave Nosworthy received an offer to head up activities at Canterbury. Nosworthy approached van Wyk and opening batsman Johann Myburgh with an offer to broaden their horizons and the pair accepted.
At first the new environment was challenging for van Wyk. He made 267 runs in eight matches at an average of 29.66 in the 2006-07 season but improved steadily after that. In the next two seasons, he averaged over 40, batting higher up the order than his usual No. 7 in South Africa, and was appointed captain of his domestic side. "Responsibility and opportunity has made me a lot more rounded player," he said. "I've enjoyed batting up the order. My keeping has always been solid and something that comes naturally to me but I really grew as a batsman."
van Wyk's breakthrough season, in 2009-10, also included a massive test of character. He was stripped of the leadership role, supposedly in a bid to help him push for higher honours. Bob Carter, Canterbury's coach, called him the "next-best wicket-keeper in the country" behind Brendon McCullum. He averaged 57.55 that season and found himself on the doorstep of the national team.
The doorstep is not the entrance hall though, and van Wyk needed to take one further step. At the start of the next summer, he moved to Central Districts. His average soared to 63.00 in 2010-11 and this season, he currently lies fifth on the domestic first-class standings. It forced the national selectors to invite him for the pre-season training camp but they went on to leave him out of the squad for the Zimbabwe tour.
Reece Young was New Zealand's first choice wicket-keeper and played in that Test and in the series against Australia. His lean run prompted the selectors to look elsewhere and they set their sights on van Wyk and BJ Watling, who remains the favourite to stand behind the stumps.
Both played in the tour match against the Zimbabweans and both made their cases for inclusion in the one-off Test. Watling scored 84 in the first innings while van Wyk retired after reaching 61 in the second. John Wright, the New Zealand coach, said, "A decision on who will take the gloves in the Test will be made closer to the start of the match." van Wyk has admitted that he would relish nothing more than that decision going his way. "I would obviously prefer to keep as well but I'm going to support BJ and give it a full go with the bat."
These days, home is New Zealand to van Wyk. One thing his new home can be certain of is that he is will be committed to giving his adoptive country his best, because it was the place that gave him his biggest chance. "New Zealand as a country has been wonderful to me and my wife," he said. "The quality of life and opportunities that we have been given here has been unbelievable and we are very thankful for that. I really want to do well for the country that has been very good to us."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent