- Derbyshire v New Zealanders, Derby, 2nd day
Bracewell, Wagner, Martin stake claims for Test place
Like passers-by caught up in a shootout between two gangs, it was Derbyshire's misfortune to find themselves in the middle of a fierce battle for a Test place between two eager seamers on the second day of New Zealand's opening match of their tour of England.
Doug Bracewell and Neil Wagner claimed seven wickets between them as they fought for a position in the Test team, brushing aside Derbyshire for just 154 in the process. Only one batsman made more than 16, Wes Durston, and he was dropped on 6.
Later, despite a first innings lead of 135, New Zealand's batsmen suffered some setbacks of their own - their top five were all bowled in the second innings - before an unbroken sixth-wicket partnership of 105 between BJ Watling and Tom Latham restored the balance of power. By stumps New Zealand had extended their lead to 334.
It appears only one of the two New Zealand seamers can find a place in the team for the first Test at Lord's. While it has been presumed by many that Bracewell, who missed the Test series against England in New Zealand after injuring his foot on broken glass, will return to the side for the upcoming series, it seems nobody has told Wagner.
Certainly Wagner, who claimed 12 wickets in the series against England, is not going to relinquish his place without a fight. He bowled throughout the first hour on the second morning at Derby and added two wickets to the one he claimed the previous evening. As wholehearted as ever, Wagner sustained impressive pace, maintained a pretty good line and was rewarded with the wickets of Billy Godleman and Wayne Madsen, both of whom edged fine deliveries angled across them.
But Bracewell also provided a compelling reminder of his own case for inclusion. Strong as a bull, he generated a pace that was unappreciated by some of the Derbyshire tail-enders and, even if he over did the short ball a little, finished with four wickets. At one stage he had two in two balls - Dan Redfern caught in the slips as he fended at a well-directed delivery that bounced more than he expected and then Ross Whiteley, who is developing a reputation as a poor player of the short ball, also caught in the slips as he fended away from his face. Later he returned to defeat the timid strokes of Peter Burgoyne and Mark Footitt.
"I kind of see it like that," Bracewell said when asked if he thought he was involved in a 'bowl off' with Wagner. "Neil's come in and taken wickets so credit to him but every game you play you're trying to prove a point. That's what I'm trying to do. I've been looking forward to playing at Lord's for a while, so let's hope I can play and do well."
Bracewell admitted to having been "gutted" to have missed out on playing against England in New Zealand, but dismissed the inevitable questions about the context of the injury to his foot.
"I was looking forward to the England series," he said. "I felt my form was pretty good. There were a few stories, but I just stood on a piece of glass while I was cleaning up. I had a few mates round the night before and it happened in the morning. A few things got blown out of proportion and a few stories came out. People can believe what they want to.
"It was deep enough but it was more the bruising that took a bit longer to heal. It was pretty bad luck really. It made it pretty frustrating. A silly little thing like that to make you miss three Tests, important Tests, is pretty annoying."
It is possible New Zealand could play both Wagner and Bracewell at Lord's. While the positions of Tim Southeee and Trent Boult appear secure, there might be an argument for fielding four seamers and doing without the specialist spin of Bruce Martin. Kane Williamson could provide a spin option if required. But Martin, who here quickly settled to a probing length and found turn that was missing for the Derbyshire spinners, did his own case no harm when luring Durston down the pitch and having him stumped by substitute wicketkeeper Tom Latham, taking the opportunity to gain some experience with the gloves in these conditions. Later Martin saw Richard Johnson and the left-handed Matt Higginbottom caught at short extra-cover and short midwicket respectively as they drove uppishly - and obligingly - to the fielder positioned for the stroke.
It could have been worse for Derbyshire. Durston was put down in the gully by Kane Williamson off Wagner - a tough, low chance when the batsman had scored 6 - and went on to strike nine fours in a merry, counter-attacking innings.
This match has been watched by a disappointingly small number of spectators - it would be more accurate to call it a "sparse" than a "crowd" - but Derbyshire deserve credit for the wicket at the County Ground. While many Test venues have settled for low, slow tracks which do little for anyone, least of all the spectator, the pitch at Derby offers decent pace, bounce and a little movement for seamers and spinners. It is, in short, a fine cricket wicket.
The New Zealand bowlers were not alone in enjoying the conditions. Mark Footitt, a left-arm fast bowler who has promised so much for so long that he might be convicted of a cricketing version of perjury, added two wickets to the four he claimed in the first innings, again making the ball swing at pace. The left-handed Hamish Rutherford was beaten by a beauty that left him to take the top of off stump, while Dean Brownlie was enticed into a loose drive only to be beaten by swing and play-on off the inside edge. It was not a shot that will have done his case of retaining a Test place in front of the returning Martin Guptill a great deal of good.
But Guptill was unable to take advantage. Struggling a little with his balance, he was punished for pushing his bat out far in front of his pad by one that nipped back, while Peter Fulton fell in similar fashion to the impressive Alasdair Evans. Kane Williamson's delightful innings - a punch down the ground was the shot of the day - was ended when he played-on to a quicker one from Burgoyne, but Watling, elegant on the drive and strong on the sweep, and Latham looked untroubled by the support bowlers and snuffed out any lingering hopes Derbyshire had of clawing their way back into the game.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo