Battling across continents
He couldn't find a place in his South African first-class side, moved to Canterbury, then went to Central Districts, and got into the New Zealand XI through the backdoor. No wonder Kruger van Wyk uses the word "fight" a lot
The South Africa and New Zealand teams were on the same flight out of Dunedin. When the seating plan was drawn up Kruger van Wyk was put with the South African contingent, reasonably so, considering that his name is distinctly Afrikaans. He was placed in the same row as Jacques Kallis and Hashim Amla, and had a good time catching up with Allan Donald, the current South Africa and former New Zealand bowling coach.
A local reporter at the press conference asked van Wyk how to pronounce his surname. "It's fan vyk," he said, explaining the phonetics of his home language. "The v becomes an f and the w becomes a v." He had clearly answered that question many times before.
So, after all of that, does Kruger van Wyk feel like a New Zealander? "Yeah I do, I really do feel like a New Zealander," he said, pronouncing the vowel "a" with a flatness that suggested he had adopted some of the habits of his new home. "I get the mickey taken out of me for my accent quite a lot but I love being here and I'm extremely appreciative of the opportunities New Zealand has given me. It was the proudest moment of my life to walk out and wear that black cap. This is where I belong."
Those words will sting those who are not in favour of the cricketing export trade which van Wyk joined six years ago when he moved from Centurion to Canterbury. Unlike some of the other travellers, like Kevin Pietersen, he did not do it because he felt deprived of opportunity, but rather because he realised he could not take the ones he was presented with in the country of his birth. "If I'm brutally honest, at that time I was probably not consistent enough to make the South Africa side," he said. "I always knew that if I kept persevering and working hard that opportunity would come somewhere along the line."
When van Wyk left South Africa he was not even the first-choice wicketkeeper at the Titans franchise, with AB de Villiers doing the job in the limited-overs games and Heino Kuhn in first-class cricket. He had to actively seek a place where he could feature regularly in a starting XI, and New Zealand was it.
It has taken longer than he may have liked to get a look in at international level; he had stints at two domestic teams, one of which he captained and was axed from, before being included in the squad to play Zimbabwe in January. By then, his prime age as a cricketer had probably passed and the younger BJ Watling was chosen ahead of him. A century from Watling in that match would have been a strong sign to van Wyk that his dream of playing international cricket was probably sailing past him.
The backdoor is not a way anyone wants to get in by but van Wyk had to settle for it. Watling's hip injury opened it for him and continues to hold it ajar. Had Watling been fit for the second Test, in Hamilton, it is likely he would have played despite van Wyk's fighting 36 in the first innings in Dunedin, when New Zealand were on the cusp of a collapse. Instead, van Wyk gets a second chance to wait for that elusive first catch at international level and perform adequately with the bat.
It's a precarious position to be in, knowing that one wrong move will cost him his place and that, at his age, it will be tough to get it back, but van Wyk says he is up for the challenge. "Every day, I've had to fight. If I play 100 Tests or only one, I've got to get up and perform every day. I don't find that difficult or different. Whether it's my first Test or my last I'm just going to go out there and fight."
He used the word "fight" a lot. Some people may think that was because of the added incentive that accrues from playing against one's former countrymen. van Wyk said that is not quite it, although there is some extra motivation.
"There's a lot of familiar faces there and guys I've played with since I was 10. We spent a lot of time together at the same school and spoke a lot about our heroes in cricket." van Wyk was schooled at the Afrikaanse Hoer Seunskool, the same school attended by AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis and Jacques Rudolph, and he knows most of them well. "It was surreal playing against all those guys. They're all extremely competitive; that's one thing we do have in common. It was good playing against them and it would be better to get a win against them."
Again, there was a mention of competitiveness. In truth, it is something that is an important part of the whole New Zealand side. They have earned the reputation of being a feisty side, not afraid to say a few things on the pitch, and talk confidently off it. Hearing van Wyk echo that did not come as a surprise. Like any member of his team, he wants to show that New Zealand are better than their No. 8 ranking in Tests suggests. "There's a massive amount of belief in our side. We have no doubt that if we play good cricket it will be tough for South Africa. There's a lot of backbone and a lot of belief. We've got a lot of fight."
Edited by Dustin Silgardo
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent