Blackcaps v Pakistan: Neil Wagner backed to end bowling struggles after difficult opening test

Blackcaps coach Gary Stead is confident Neil Wagner can still perform at the highest level, backing the veteran before the second test against Pakistan.

As the two sides played out a draw in the series opener in Karachi, Wagner took just one wicket across both innings.

With spin taking hold and Ish Sodhi claiming career-best figures, Wagner was only used for three overs in Pakistan's second innings, as the Blackcaps pushed for a win. 

At 36 years old, Wagner's career has more yesterdays than tomorrows left, as the oldest player in the current NZ squad.

Despite a career record of 247 wickets in 60 tests at an average of just under 27, Wagner has lately.

In 2022, Wagner took just 18 wickets at an average of over 33 and was overlooked for the first two tests, as the Blackcaps lost 3-0 in England.

For coach Stead, Wagner's record as a Blackcap affords him time to carry on in the current side.

"Neil's obviously further at the back than the start of his test career - there's no doubt about that - but he's a guy that'll run through brick walls for you as well," said Stead. "He's been an important part of this bowling unit for a long, long time now.

"He complements the other guys with the skillsets he has and being left arm with that slightly different angle as well.

"I still believe Neil has a lot of cricket left in him - please don't take that the wrong way."

Wagner could miss out on the second test of the series, beginning at the same venue on Monday.

Neil Wagner.
Neil Wagner. Photo credit: Photosport

The short turnaround of just two days between the first and second test will see both sides consider changes, with conditions and player workload playing a part in the make-up of the two playing XIs.

With conditions almost certainly favouring spin again, Stead concedes the Blackcaps could make changes.

"You're always looking at the side and what you feel is the best mix of seamers that you need," he added. "You come to these conditions and, at times, you don't go in with more than two.

"Sometimes, teams go in with one and a part-timer as well. They're the different options you always weigh up, as you go to different conditions around the world."

What won't be changed is the reunited opening batting combination of Tom Latham and Devon Conway.

Earmarked as the player to replace Ross Taylor at No.4, Conway was moved back to the top of the Blackcaps order, where he made a career-best 200 on debut at Lord's in 2021.

The return yielded immediate results, as Latham and Conway put on 183 runs for the first wicket in New Zealand's first innings, the second-highest partnership for the Blackcaps in Pakistan.

While the future of the Blackcaps opening pair will depend on conditions, with Will Young the unlucky batter to miss out this time around, Stead says New Zealand's top-order selections are fluid.

"We've looked at that for a while now," Stead continued. "Devon and Tom batted beautifully at the top for us as well.

Tom Latham and Devon Conway.
Tom Latham and Devon Conway. Photo credit: Getty Images

"We weigh up all of our options in the team. It's been unfortunate we've had injuries with the top order and how we shape the top order.

"In this case, we felt Devon and Tom was the right way to go."

Victory in the second test would be just New Zealand's third in Pakistan and give them a 1-0 series victory.