The quota system in South African sports has pushed a number of players to ply their trade abroad. England has been the favoured destination for many, the county circuit providing them exposure and livelihood.
Much before Kevin Pietersen took England by storm and Jonathan Trott became the No 3, the likes of South Africa-born batsmen Allan Lamb and Robin Smith had made a splash. But it is rare for players to come all the way to New Zealand for a cricket career.
Left-arm pacer Neil Wagner (27) began his first-class career in South Africa but moved to New Zealand, making Dunedin his new home before qualifying to play for the Kiwis. It has been hard work since as his role in the team requires him to plug away at one end and help Tim Southee and Trent Boult stay fresh and go for wickets at the other end.
That not just requires tremendous fitness but also temperament. It was Wagner who emerged the bowling hero after capturing eight wickets in the match. The four he took in India’s second innings were vital. Wagner, like Ishant and Shami, bowled 10 overs at a stretch in the afternoon, never giving up with the old ball.
There was another South African hand in four of Wagner’s dismissals. Durban-born BJ Watling moved to New Zealand with his mother when he was a boy. A reserved character, he was expressive behind the stumps, taking nine catches. The six he took in the second innings is a record for the fourth innings of a Test.
Skipper Brendon McCullum acknowledged that Wagner made the difference. “Neil epitomises everything we want to be known for as a team, how aggressive and hostile he is when he has got ball in hand and how big his heart is. He bowled 10 overs into the wind late on Day Four which is no easy feat and it allowed Tim and Trent to have some decent downtime leading into that new ball. He has bowled like that for us now for 12-18 months; it was nice today for a guy like that to get the rewards.”
A ’keeper himself, McCullum knows the value of Watling. “He made those catches look quite easy. With Luke Ronchi developing nicely in ODIs and T20s, ‘keeping stocks are looking pretty strong.”