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Homecoming for 'fully converted Kiwi' Neil Wagner

Neil Wagner: 'I am a fully converted Kiwi now' Gallo Images/Getty Images

"Wagner is my surname now."

It just does not translate in print, does it?

Neil Wagner, the South African-born, New Zealand-based Test cricketer, was explaining to local reporters that he prefers his last name to be pronounced in an English-style, rather than an Afrikaans one.

Here, in Centurion where he grew up, he would be called "Vaggner". The W is a V and the G comes from the throat. If you're sitting in a quiet room try it. There, in Dunedin where he lives now, he is called Wagner, as is wag the tail with a soft G. You don't need to try this one, just turn on the television tomorrow and you will hear it. If you ever run into Neil Wagner be sure to use the second.

"It's an English country and that's where my respect is at the moment. I am a fully converted Kiwi now," he explained, to the giggles of the journalists who tried to bait him into answering questions in Afrikaans. He assured us he still speaks the language to his family, who, for the first time, were all at the ground to see him play.

"Some of them have seen me play before but they don't all travel so this was the first time I've had all of my family and friends that I grew up with sit next to a field and watch a Test match," Wagner said.

He could not hide the emotion of his homecoming. "I had a lot of goosebumps when I walked out," Wagner said. "I remember sitting on that bank and watching Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock bowl and really feeling love for this game. To walk out today and represent the Black Caps in a Test against South Africa was an amazing feeling. I loved every moment of it."

It was poetic that Wagner took the first wicket. He had Quinton de Kock caught off a short ball after South Africa's top two had put on their first hundred-run opening stand in almost three years. Despite the South Africa batsmen's success, Wagner supported New Zealand's decision to bowl first. "I have never seen a wicket this time of the year that had so much grass on it. When we saw the grass on it, 100%, we were keen to bowl and a lot of the time the ball did go around."

Even with the assistance, New Zealand only managed to pluck three South African wickets but Faf du Plessis, Wagner's former primary-school friend and now the stand-in South Africa captain, is not among them. Wagner and du Plessis played backyard cricket as children and were high-school team-mates with AB de Villiers at the Afrikaans Seuns Hoerskool. But now, there is no one Wagner would rather dismiss.

"You run into Faf and you want to have a laugh because there's a lot of memories from school in your head. 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," Wagner said. "Growing up it was a different story. I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing - he knows what's coming."

If he reads the news, du Plessis will also know how best to address his old mate. Wagner. Like the tail, with a soft G. That's his name now.