From Pretoria to the land of the long flat vowel

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Centurion

THE name’s Wagner, Neil Wagner. It’s not Vaagner, as someone from Pretoria, where Wagner was born and raised before moving to New Zealand in 2008, would say.

“Everyone one in New Zealand calls me Wagner,” he said. “My nickname’s ‘Wags’. I’m not really too fussed about anything like that but Wagner’s my surname now.”

New Zealand had “played a big role in who I am today and what I’ve become as a cricketer”.

Listening to Wagner there was no mistaking his allegiance to the land of the long, flat vowel. At least not to South African ears.

“I still can speak (Afrikaans) but I’m a fully converted Kiwi now. I don’t know about the accent. If I come here I’ve got an accent. If I go to New Zealand I’ve got an accent. When I got to England I get called an Australian. I never win.”

Wherever he goes Wagner is a useful left-arm fast bowler, good enough to take 2/51 on the first day of the second test against South Africa at Centurion on Saturday.

“I had a lot of goosebumps when I walked out,” he said. “It’s the first time in my life that I had my whole family and a lot of my friends that I grew up with sit next to a field and watch a test match.

“I remember sitting on that grass bank and watching Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock bowl and really feeling love for this game.”

Like AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis, Wagner attended Affies.

“You run into Faf and you want to have a laugh because there’s a lot of memories from school in your head,” Wagner said.

“You try and put that out of your head and focus on the battle: you want to get him out. That’s the main thing.”

The battle resumes on Sunday.

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