England v New Zealand: We will try to win it with words, says Neil Wagner
Kiwi paceman reveals secrets of his sledging at the England batsmen ahead of second Test
England's fragile batting order can expect an old-fashioned reception committee in Leeds this week. That is to say they will be sledged up hill and down dale.
There will be a barrage of invective, insults and possibly innuendo from New Zealand. The way that Neil Wagner, the tourists' left-arm swing bowler, described it, it sounds like huge fun – and if they should manage to get under England's skin before the Ashes then so be it.
In a candid assessment of his team's intentions Wagner outlined his approach to each of the opposition batsmen in the second Test starting at Headingley on Friday. He will not be trying out many one-liners.
"I think it's more about getting into a guy's face," he said. "It's about irritating them, make 'em really angry, make 'em look at you and think, 'I really do want to hit this guy for four'. You have just got to get them to the point where they really hate you. When you get to that point, you sometimes make them think about something else in a split second of concentration-lapse that could give you a wicket."
Wagner revealed that he had already had a few spats with England's No 3 batsman, Jonathan Trott, who like him was born in South Africa. But it seems the only batsmen who can expect a quiet time of it are Alastair Cook, who is so unresponsive to sledging that they have ceased to bother, and Ian Bell, who has stunned them into silence by politeness.
"It's just a spur-of-the-moment thing as soon as you can see a little battle and take it on," said Wagner. "I think there was an occasion in the previous Test where myself and Trott had one. He is one of those guys who is quite focused.
"I thought I would have a little bit of a crack and it might unsettle him, maybe get him driving a couple of times.
"It didn't really work out on that day but it did in Eden Park in Auckland. We tried to get him driving and he did and played at one and nicked one."
With New Zealand anxious to recover from their mauling on the fourth day at Lord's, when they were bowled out for 68 and lost, by 170 runs, a match in which they were ahead for much of the time, they suspect they may be helped by the Ashes.
Although England have reinforced their ban on talk of the series against Australia, the present tourists think it will be playing on some minds. England might not be speaking about it but everybody else is.
Wagner said: "We couldn't care less about the Ashes, to be honest. We're not looking at it at all, for us it is about trying to get a win away. But it is something we can pick on, but for them, they will focus on trying to win the series and taking that confidence into the Ashes.
"If you get them two or three down quickly, we can definitely put the squeeze on them. But they've still got a couple of match-winning performers, so that's something to be aware of and not get too far ahead of ourselves."
England may be difficult to upset since, as Wagner conceded, they displayed infinite patience at Lord's "and gave us nothing". But he was sure that both Nick Compton and Jonny Bairstow would be nervous and that Bairstow, like Joe Root, might be affected by the desire to do well on his home ground.
"You've got to be careful," Wagner said. "With Compton, when we tried to get under his skin a bit, he played quite well and ended up scoring a hundred at Wellington. Some players thrive on something like that, other players tend to be more nervous. There's a fine line. Some players, you let them be and they're more nervous because they're waiting for something to happen."
Wagner said that he was probably the most chirpy of the New Zealanders, though his fellow paceman Tim Southee was also partial to a word or two. But he admitted that with Cook and Bell it would be different.
"Cooky is just one of those guys that the more you try and talk to him, the better he is going to play. He is one of those guys where it is not going to work. You just have to let him be.
"I have a lot of respect for Ian Bell and he always gives you a little bit of a nod when you give him a good one or is always happy to tell you, 'well bowled'," Wagner added. "You can't help but give him a bit of a smile. When he hits you for four, you nod back and say, 'well played'."
And what of the absent Kevin Pietersen. Perhaps a text message? "Most definitely," said Wagner.
Wagner's tips: How England react to sledging
Not sledged because the England captain simply does not respond, or else he will play even better. But Wagner suggested that overconfidence could sometimes be his downfall.
Wagner pointed out that he played "a rash shot out of nowhere" at Lord's and was still looking to find his feet in Test cricket, so the Kiwis could thrive on that.
Prone to a word or two himself when fielding, and the Kiwis will repay him in kind, hoping he plays a false shot.
Silence is the best policy but Wagner said: "I have had a couple of occasions when he has driven me through the covers – then you do give him a little bit of a stare or glare."
Young, top-class performer but appearing on his home ground might play on his mind. "We'll definitely have a couple of words and try to get underneath his skin a bit."
One of those who looks a bit nervous at the moment and therefore he would be the subject of a word or two to try to unsettle him. Will also be playing on home turf at Headingley.
Always ready to swap banter with opponents and Wagner, going out to bat at Lord's, said he knew what was coming when Prior smiled. Prior himself will not be spared after his Lord's pair.
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