Neil Wagner has said that the New Zealand bowlers will back themselves to defend a lead of 250 in the Bridgetown Test against West Indies. The visitors ended the third day 99 ahead with seven wickets in hand after Wagner's four strikes were instrumental in restricting West Indies' first-innings lead to 24.
"Kane (Williamson) and Baz (Brendon McCullum) batted quite well at the end, did an awesome job there," Wagner said. "Getting us to a 98-run or so lead, which is brilliant. We would have taken that any day. Anything above 250 gives us bowlers a good chance to defend it. It is only going to get harder to bat on towards the end but we know they can come out swinging. Our bowlers are pretty confident what we have done in the past, in the last couple of months. If we get 250, we will be happy with defending that."
Wagner expected batting last to be difficult on a deteriorating pitch. "There was a couple of times where it seemed to be going up and down a little bit. Some balls seemed to be staying low and some saw tennis-ball bounce. Quite happy where it is at and it is going to start getting to the point where it is going to be tough to bat on last day and innings."
West Indies began the day 169 for 2 but could not build on that, and were dismissed for 317. Wagner led New Zealand's bowling effort with 4 for 64 after being left out for the first two Tests, and said he was pleased with the performance.
"We bowled a lot better in partnerships and created a bit more pressure for longer periods of time and started getting rewards for it. So overall quite happy with the bowling performance today. Quite nice to get a couple of wickets under the belt and be back in the team and doing a good job. Quite nice getting that opportunity and make full use of it. It is always good to play for your country and represent them on the international stage."
As he often does as third seamer, Wagner took a couple of big wickets with the old ball, when he removed Darren Bravo on the drive in a planned move and had Shivnarine Chanderpaul gloving a short ball down the leg side at the stroke of lunch.
"We got a couple of plans in place but at the end of the day the plans are only as good as you execute them on the day and we executed for longer periods of time and that is why we got some rewards for it. Pretty good day overall and Brendon was quite spectacular with those plans.
"Baz just kept telling me, 'wicket there would be gold before the new ball'. Bit of a burgle down the leg side but you'll take it any day, so quite happy about that. It (Chanderpaul dismissal) was quite crucial."
West Indies were 53 short of New Zealand's first-innings total when Wagner dismissed Chanderpaul. They eventually took a 24-run lead, thanks in large part to Jason Holder scoring 38 in his first Test innings. Holder had a good day overall, scoring those crucial runs before getting his first Test wicket, that of Ross Taylor, in an economical five-over spell in New Zealand's second innings.
"I'm pleased with the way I batted today," Holder said. "Unfortunately this morning [we couldn't] kick on a little bit more, give the team a few more runs for the lead, but it didn't happen. Came back this afternoon, got a wicket, so hoping tomorrow I can come get some more wickets."
Holder said the pitch was a little two-paced, but not too difficult to bat on.
"Not easy to start," he said. "It's a pitch where you know you've got to get in. It's a little two-paced and I thought Wagner bowled very well, very tempting and testing. But once you get in it's a lot easier to score."
Holder said a target of "around 230-250" would be chaseable on this pitch.
"It's still a pretty good pitch to bat on," he said. "It'll be interesting to see the way New Zealand play tomorrow, see if they can put runs on the board first to get. I just think if we maintain discipline tomorrow morning and hit our straps it will be difficult for them to score."