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Black Caps make Wagner call for second Test after 'shortest retirement ever' speculation

4th March, 2024
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4th March, 2024
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New Zealand have tapped uncapped quick Ben Sears for the second Test against Australia, ending hopes of a farewell outing for retired Black Caps pacemen Neil Wagner.

Injuries, patchy form and a 172-run defeat in the first Test mean New Zealand have plenty to think about ahead of their final clash with Australia, beginning on Friday in Christchurch.

Coach Gary Stead announced two pieces of injury news on Monday, with Devon Conway and Will O’Rourke judged unfit for Hagley Oval.

Needing surgery on a thumb injury sustained in last month’s Twenty20 series, Conway will be out for eight weeks, impacting his Indian Premier League commitments.

O’Rourke, the 22-year-old quick, suffered a hamstring strain in the first Test and needs a fortnight off.

With Kyle Jamieson already on the injury list, Scott Kuggeleijn ineffective in the first Test and O’Rourke now sidelined, Stead must consider his options for two bowling slots alongside Matt Henry and Tim Southee.

Until last week, it was assumed Wagner would be lining up, only for the 37-year-old to retire on the eve of the series.

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Rumours of a stunning recall were considered after O’Rourke’s injury was confirmed, with Australian captain Pat Cummins quipping after the first Test that it would be the ‘shortest retirement ever’ if Wagner were to play in the second Test.

Stead said a potential comeback for the Hagley Oval Test was considered, but not to the point where it was put to Wagner, who was celebrated at a team dinner on Sunday.

“We reconsidered a number of things, but we thought in this case the pace Ben Sears offers and what he’s brought to us in international cricket is the difference we needed,” Stead said.

Sears, 26, has played 13 times for New Zealand in T20 cricket, including an impressive turn against Australia last month when he bowled Travis Head at 143km/h.

“He bowls with genuine pace and gets good bounce, which is always a great asset in red-ball cricket,” Stead said.

Neil Wagner is happy

“We’ve been really impressed by his performances for the Black Caps in white-ball cricket this summer and believe he can make the step up to the Test arena.”

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Should Sears play, it leaves one place for either Kuggeleijn or spinner Mitchell Santner, overlooked for the last two Tests on pitches the Black Caps didn’t feel would spin – decisions Stead said were mistakes on both occasions.

“It’s maybe a little bit of dryness in our summer, it’s made things a little bit different to what we normally see here,” he said.

“We put our hands up and say there’s a couple of times we haven’t got it right.”

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Stead suggested Kuggeleijn was the frontrunner but a pitch inspection would again be critical.

“He will be better for the run (in the first Test) and hope to see more of him come the next Test,” he said.

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New Zealand’s first Test defeat means they cannot win back the Trans-Tasman Trophy, which has been held by Australia for 30 years and counting. 

They can, however, draw the series and claim much-needed World Test Championship (WTC) points with an improved showing on the South Island.

New Zealand and Australia were the first two winners of the WTC and sit second and third respectively on the current points table behind India.

© AAP

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