They haven’t come across each other much since their careers developed on opposing sides of the world, but it should be a feisty battle between New Zealand’s bouncer-happy quick and South Africa’s stubborn opener
Moonda: South Africa’s quicks could heat up Dunedin
In an increasingly globalised sporting world, the story of the migrant player who has to face his former countrymen has been told too many times. But this one is a little different.
New Zealand’s Neil Wagner, originally from Pretoria, not only has history with the likes of Faf du Plessis, who he went to school with, and Morne Morkel, who he played provincial cricket with, but also with Dean Elgar, a similarly fiery on-field character, who he played against.
“I haven’t really had a lot of battles with him, but in school we did,” Elgar said. “He seems to have come on in leaps and bounds for New Zealand and it seems like he’s leading their attack with regards to aggression. There’s a bit of South African mentality coming out there. It’s working for them.”
Wagner was from the famed Afrikaans Hoer Seunskool that produced AB de Villiers, du Plessis, Jacques Rudolph and Kruger van Wyk. Elgar is from the slightly less well-known establishment of St Dominic’s College in Welkom, the second largest city in the Free State, 130 kilometres away from Bloemfontein. Both schools breed their sportsmen to play the game hard and in Wagner and Elgar they produced two of the most determined players on the current circuit. Elgar was once referred to as a “staffie” by Morne Morkel for his stubbornness, a reference to the breed of dog, while Wagner has become an indefatigable short-ball specialist who will bounce his opposition all day.
Despite many meetings as schoolboys, the pair only played one provincial match against each other, more than a decade ago, in November 2006. Elgar retired hurt on 27 in the first innings and returned to bat at No.7 in the second, where Wagner took five wickets, although none of them was Elgar. The match was drawn. But their history in South Africa is more than that.
“Free State against Northerns – it used to be pretty feisty,” Elgar remembered. “There’s a lot of Afrikaans people in those two teams and it was pretty heated. It was all in good spirit and I guess we were all playing for careers we never thought we could have back then.”
Both players learned to be patient as far as their international career was concerned. Elgar had to bide his time for a Test call-up, despite regularly being among the top run-scorers in South Africa’s first-class competition, then was asked to bat at No. 6 on debut and made a pair against Australia. By then, Wagner had long realised he would not crack it in South Africa, relocated to New Zealand, served his time until he qualified and had earned his first two Test appearances.
In Wagner’s third Test he came across Elgar, seven years after they had met in that provincial fixture. It was also Elgar’s third match and he made the bigger impact scoring an unbeaten 103, the third century in a South African total of 525 for 8 declared. Wagner bowled 33 fairly expensive overs for 135 of which Elgar, de Villiers and du Plessis scored 95 between them. The memories of their school days may have flooded back.
“We’ve had a lot of battles on the field as young boys, from school cricket going onwards, we hated playing against each other,” Wagner admitted. “But Dean is a great man. I do like sitting afterwards having a beer with him but, yeah, we hate playing against each other. I guess it is part and parcel of the job.”
Since then, Elgar and Wagner have only faced each other one more time, in Durban last August , in a match that will be remembered more for what didn’t happen. South Africa battled their way to 263 then Dale Steyn took out New Zealand’s openers with the score 15. The heavens opened that day and although skies cleared in the subsequent ones, the newly-scarified outfield had taken too much water and no further play was possible. With heavy cloud over University Oval and a few spits of rain on Monday morning, at least both Elgar and Wagner agreed that the one thing neither of them wants for the rest of week is another damp squib.
“We know Dunedin is very used to conditions like this, and we know what the weather’s going to be like this week,” Elgar said. But Wagner, who has made this city his home, suggested maybe South Africa will be surprised when things clear up as the Test approaches. “When that southerly wind cuts through those trees, it can be quite cold but when the sunny Dunedin shows itself off, it can be quite nice. You prepare yourself for all four seasons in one day.”
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo