New Zealand in command after Wagner’s seven-for 39

The Report by Nikhil Kalro

Neil Wagner‘s role in New Zealand’s set-up is unambiguous. In an attack with world-class swing bowlers, Wagner is tasked with pushing batsmen back with a hard length.

When West Indies’ openers put on a display of impeccable defensive technique on the first morning, New Zealand changed tact, employing a barrage of short balls to a solid top order. It played right into Wagner’s hands, who ripped through West Indies with a career-best 7 for 39, the fourth-best Test figures by a New Zealand bowler, to topple the visitors over for 134 on the first day in Wellington. New Zealand then added 85 runs for the loss of two wickets, cutting their deficit to just 49 at stumps.

After Kraigg Brathwaite and Kieran Powell put on a 59-run opening partnership, Captain Kane Williamson’s hand was forced. He had a short leg and leg gully, and pushed out fine leg and square leg for Wagner. West Indies, it seemed, were more comfortable pulling than fending. Brathwaite’s first boundary was a top-edged pull for six over the keeper in the 21st over.

Wagner, from around the wicket, continued to angle short deliveries into their ribs. Brathwaite, trying to defend with a straight bat, then awkwardly fended a catch to short leg, only giving Wagner more oomph in his spell.

On the stroke of lunch, a short ball from Trent Boult didn’t climb as steeply as Powell had expected. He dropped his hands to let it go, but the ball ricocheted low to third slip off the glove. The scales evened out after a dominating morning for West Indies.

The session turned decisively in New Zealand’s favour as Shimron Hetmyer, who struck three delectable boundaries in his 13, also fended a catch to second slip, unable to sway out of the line of a short delivery from Wagner. Those wickets prior to lunch did substantial mental damage, and their change in technique was evident.

Shai Hope gloved a wafted pull to the keeper down the leg side two balls after the break. Sunil Ambris, standing deep in the crease anticipating another bouncer, clipped a back-of-a-length delivery to fine leg, but his backward momentum meant his back foot clipped the stump. Ambris hit wicket b Wagner 0 (1) on debut.

Summarized scores: New Zealand 85 for 2 (Raval 29*, Taylor 12*) trail West Indies 134 (Powell 42, Wagner 7-39, Boult 2-36) by 49 runs

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