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I cannot wait to pit wits against good pal Cook, admits Wagner

 

By David Clough

Alastair Cook's friendly reunion with New Zealand seamer Neil Wagner will have to be put on hold when the first Test starts in Auckland.

England's national record run-scorer has already had a few convivial chats with his Essex team-mate, but feisty left-armer Wagner has a job to do against his old chum at Eden Park, so the good humour will resume for the start of the new season when both will be lending a hand again as Essex set out to defend their Division One title.

"It will be quite an interesting battle ­- then afterwards we can sit down, have a laugh and talk about it," said Wagner. "He's a great lad - I loved spending time with him in the Essex changing room. He's a top man - there has been some funny banter between (us), so I look forward to playing against him."

England's chances of arresting their miserable away form in Test cricket, and trying to banish memories of this winter's 4-0 Ashes defeat, have been bolstered by Ben Stokes' apparent return to full fitness.

Stokes was able to bowl as well as bat in the nets yesterday without discomfort from his stiff back, and his return to Test cricket as England's fully-fledged go-to all-rounder is on track again.

Craig Overton nonetheless remains on standby. As such, like Stokes, the Somerset bowler was preparing in the nets as if he will be involved in New Zealand's inaugural day-night Test.

"That's always the aim," said Overton. "You don't know until the day before what the side is, so you've just got to prepare."

After his debut in the day-night Test at Adelaide, he predicts movement from the pink ball may accelerate the contest - but Wagner disagrees.

"There's been a lot of talk, but I've not seen it do anything too much different," he said, dispelling too any suggestion Joe Root's tourists may be easy pickings after their Ashes humbling.

"If anything it could motivate them to come back stronger."

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