"It's obviously great for a guy like Matt to come in and have some rewards and some success. Coming in for one Test and going out, you never really get into too much of a rhythm. So for him to get some reward is very pleasing"
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Matt Henry was the standout bowling star for New Zealand, with Tim Southee a not-too-distant second, in their innings-and-276-run win over South Africa in the first Test, but Pretoria-born Neil Wagner played his part too, with three wickets and a snappy innings of 49. Now, as New Zealand go into the second and final Test looking for their first Test series win over South Africa, Wagner is clear that "we really want to beat them in the series", it won't be "different to any of the other ones" New Zealand have won in recent years.
"They are a quality team, and we really want to, obviously, beat them in the series. They have always been a quality unit," Wagner said three days off from the start of the second Test, also in Christchurch. "People ask me that question, obviously, because I was born there. But I've been living here for 14 years now, so it's something I don't think about too much, or it doesn't really feel that way. I probably only really know two or three guys in that team anyway. So it's a lot different to what it was when I started my career personally.
"But to beat any team… we've achieved a couple of things throughout the years now, beating England for the first time in I don't know how many years. [It's] the same no matter who you play, we saw that a couple of months ago when we played against Bangladesh, how they played in our conditions.
"Test cricket against any Test team is pretty tough, and every win is one you can treasure. This will be pretty special, but it's no different to any of the other ones."
It has been a remarkable run for New Zealand in Test cricket of late. In the 2019-2021 World Test Championship, they won eight of their 12 games, including the final against India, to take home the crown. The new cycle hasn't begun well for them, as they lost 1-0 in India and then drew 1-1 at home against Bangladesh, but it has been back to business against South Africa, as the pace quartet of Southee, Wagner, Henry and Kyle Jamieson rolled the opposition over for 95 and 111 in the first Test.
"Nice thing about this team is everyone's got a bit of experience now; helps, obviously, the more you're playing," Wagner said. "When you play quality teams and are able to put performances in, it definitely helps in getting more experience but also getting the confidence out of it too. Hopefully we can keep growing as a unit and take it forward.
"It was a strong performance [in the first Test], it was really good, obviously everyone chipped in, and in all facets, and Matt Henry obviously being absolutely outstanding for us. Yeah, pretty pleasing Test match for us, but it's something in the past now, got to put this behind us quite quickly and move forward to Friday, because South Africa is a quality team and will come back firing. So we also want to be on top of our game and keep improving as we go forward."
Wagner's 49 in just 56 balls - from No. 5 in the first innings - also helped New Zealand, who had begun that second morning on 116 for 3 with Henry Nicholls and Wagner in the middle. "[I thought] I might just try and play an aggressive game and try and see if I can hopefully score some quick runs and take the game away from them," Wagner said. "Quite nice it came off on the day, and hopefully I can do something similar in the future again. I take a lot of pride in my batting and try to contribute for the team wherever I can. I love batting and hopefully I can keep going."
But it's the bowling department where his team, and captain Tom Latham, will expect Wagner and the others to be at their best. One more time for now.
"It's obviously great for a guy like Matt to come in and have some rewards and some success, as someone who is carrying the drinks for a number of times now," Wagner said. "And coming in for one Test and going out, you never really get into too much of a rhythm. So for him to get some reward is very pleasing.
"We keep bowling for each other, and we keep passing that baton on, that the rewards will swing around like it has been, and… but yeah, it's bowling for the other guys, and whosever day it is has to get right around him. I thought Tim Southee was outstanding again with the new ball, and the same for Kyle and all the other guys, just keep chipping in and doing our jobs.
And, back in Christchurch, New Zealand can expect a bit of a crowd again, with Covid-19 restrictions in place, of course. "Christchurch crowd has always been fantastic, they always get behind us, they support us quite well, and even though it was a smaller crowd, it was nice to see some faces around of people, chanting and singing along and cheering us along," Wagner acknowledged. "It goes a long way; no-one wants to play in front of an empty stadium, which can be sometimes tough work as well. So really appreciate, obviously, all that support from the public and hopefully long may that continue."