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Neil Wagner: England Tests are not warm-ups for WTC final

Says the opportunity to train with the Dukes ball even before leaving for England has been "quite beneficial"

Vishal Dikshit
Vishal Dikshit
You heard that right: the New Zealand players have already trained with the Dukes ball before leaving for England  •  Getty Images

You heard that right: the New Zealand players have already trained with the Dukes ball before leaving for England  •  Getty Images

New Zealand are not going to treat the two upcoming Tests against England as warm-ups for the World Test Championship final against India, fast bowler Neil Wagner has said. A majority of New Zealand's Test contingent arrived in England on Sunday and Wagner was part of the second batch of players to leave Auckland on Monday.
"We're not going to treat these two Test matches against England just as warm-ups [for the WTC final]," Wagner told reporters at the Auckland airport before his departure. "I know for a fact we're going to get out there and pride ourselves the way we've been playing Test cricket and we want to win Test matches for New Zealand."
Wagner, the No. 3-ranked bowler in the ICC Test rankings, was among the Test players who got together in Lincoln for camps and training with the Dukes ball, which is used for Test matches in England, in the lead up to the tour. Wagner will be touring England as part of the New Zealand squad for the third time, although he played there only during the 2013 Test series, apart from his experience in the County Championship for Lancashire. Wagner said the opportunity to train with the Dukes ball even before leaving for England, unlike in the past, had been "quite beneficial".
"It's been quite nice, it's obviously got different characteristics to the Kookaburra," Wagner said. "The way we've been training for the last while is something we didn't always have in the past, having the facilities and having a marquee up and getting a number of trainings in before going to England. On tours in the past you rock up there and you've only got a couple of trainings and maybe one head out with the Dukes ball before the first Test and with that you can find yourself a little bit behind.
"But having had those little bit of trainings leading into it has been quite beneficial, just because it's a little bit different, and obviously adapting to it. It's been really good preparation and everybody is excited bowling with it. Sometimes you have to control all that because there's a high expectation of the ball doing a lot and moving around but sometimes you can get there and it can be quite flat and slow as well. The nice thing about it is we've got a wealth of experience and the guys have been there before so we can feed off each other and bounce ideas off each other as well."
Wagner would be expected to step up against England in the absence of the experienced Trent Boult, who has stayed back in New Zealand to be with his family and could miss both the England Tests before being available for the WTC final starting June 18 in Southampton.
Wagner said the familiarity of having played in England before would help him and the rest of the squad.
"The nice thing is that the nerves and the unknowns are away, I've played at Lord's couple of times now," he said. "I've played one Test there in 2013 and a couple of county games too, so it's nice to get there when things feel familiar. Sometimes you can get there and get a little but starstruck with the whole experience and everything because you grow up as a kid wanting to be there and all those sort of things. Having been there and played on those grounds, we've been around those conditions so it's nice to go there and hit the ground running, knowing what to expect."
Wagner, along with Tim Southee, Ross Taylor and BJ Watling, left Auckland on Monday; they are expected to join the rest of the squad around the same time as the New Zealand players who had flown to the Maldives from the truncated IPL. Tom Latham, who left for England with the first group of players last week, was excited about the prospect of playing in front of crowds, even if limited.
"Test cricket is the pinnacle and to play it in England where it's so traditional and it's a really cool place to play Test cricket," Latham said. "And it's great news that we'll have some crowd there as well; not full capacity but at least there will be some supporters."

Vishal Dikshit is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo