New Zealand in control after Wagner magic

As many as 12 wickets fell on the opening day of the first Test between New Zealand and Windies at the Basin Reserve in Wellington. At the end of the day, though, it was New Zealand who took home the initiative with their noses ahead thanks to a seven-wicket haul for Neil Wagner.

On a day when things moved rather quickly, New Zealand ended the day on 85 for 2, trailing their visitors by 49 runs with Ross Taylor (12) and Jeet Raval (29) in the middle.

An abject batting collapse saw Windies bowled out for 134 before they fought back with the ball to take two wickets in the space of three runs. With a similar approach like New Zealand, Windies’ bowlers came out bowling short but Tom Latham and Raval took their time to settle in. The pair, like the Windies openers before them, added 50 for the opening stand. But that association was broken after a lazy shot from Latham brought about his downfall with skipper Jason Holder being rightly rewarded for some sharp, short-pitched bowling.

Williamson then played into Windies’ ploy, having two gullies set for him with Kemar Roach bowling wide offstump. The extra bounce did Williamson in as he cut one straight into the hands of Shai Hope. Taylor and Raval took their time in the middle and ensured no other hiccups were faced before stumps were drawn.

After a strong start, Windies lost wickets in a heap after being subject to a Wagner special. Wagner had two balls to bowl after lunch, having left the over unfinished, sending back Shimron Hetmyer back just before the break. He bowled aggressively, accurately and short all morning, and repaed rewards as he had another casualty: Shai Hope, whose half-hearted pull gave Tom Blundell his maiden Test dismissal.

Wagner had three then, and went on to pick up four more, finishing with career-best figures of 7 for 39, as Windies were bowled out for a measly total after having been 59 for 0 at one stage. The second session had disaster written all over it for Windies from as early as the second ball upon play resumption. Windies would have discussed being patient and leaving the short ball alone during the break, but proceedings didn’t hint at anything close.

They were clueless as Wagner kept peppering them with more of the same, and they kept falling prey. Hope got a feather that went to the ‘keeper. Next ball, debutant Sunil Ambris became the first player in Test cricket to get a golden duck on debut via a hit wicket dismissal. Wagner was on a hat-trick, but Shane Dowrich saw it off.

Wagner was on a hat-trick once more two overs later after Raval plucked out an excellent catch as the short ball worked once again. This time, Roston Chase was at the receiving end. Holder then was yorked by a beauty as Windies slipped to 97 for 7. Wagner was relentless, Miguel Cummins and Shanon Gabriel resisted, but it wasn’t an easy stay against a pacer who had his ace game on.

As if New Zealand’s bowlers weren’t causing enough damage, Dowrich was soon run out due to absolute lack of communication between him and Kemar Roach. Mitchell Santner knocked the stumps off at the non-striker’s end with a direct throw from point as Dowrich failed to return after setting off for a run that wasn’t there. Boult’s pace did Cummins in then before the last wicket stand annoyed the hosts with Roach and Gabriel adding 29 runs. Wagner, however, wrapped up the innings with another short one that Gabriel edged to Latham at second slip. Wagner’s returns were the second-best by a pacer in the opening innings of a Test in the last 20 years, behind Stuart Broad’s 8 for 15.

The Windies openers Kraigg Brathwaite and Kieran Powell would’ve thought they kicked off their tour of New Zealand on a bright note, braving through the first hour and a half of the opening session of the first Test unscathed. All of it, however, changed in the span of 15 minutes.

Windies were asked to bat by New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson on a surface that had quite a bit of green. Yet, the conditions did little to assist the pacemen who were operating in the absence of any hint of swing, or wind, that usually aids them from the pavillion end. The openers started off very cautiously, assessing the conditions, and gradually picking up the runs.

Pitching up the ball and trying to swing it around didn’t work for New Zealand as the conditions gave them little to play with, which left them searching after the first hour of play. Powell took the initiative and whipped a half volley on leg stump that was bowled too full on the pads by Colin de Grandhomme.

No real chances were offered despite a few play and misses. Powell grew in confidence as he punished the bowlers for their bad balls and played out the good ones meticulously. Brathwaite, on the other hand, was struggling, top-edging, hopping around and just about holding off.

Wagner went on to break the opening stand with his aggressive intent paying off. His ploy to bounce the batsmen out accounted for six Windies’ batsmen. It started with Brathwaite, who was in two minds to play and ended up popping a catch into the awaiting hands of Henry Nicholls for 24 as New Zealand struck after a whole 90 minutes.

And then it never stopped.

Brief scores: Windies 134 (Kieran Powell 42; Trent Boult 2-36, Neil Wagner 7-39) lead New Zealand 85/2 (Tom Latham 27, Jeet Raval 29*) by 49 runs.

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