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Old friends Cook and Wagner set to do battle at first Test in Auckland

Ben Stokes is in line to play his first Test in more than six months when England take on New Zealand.

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

England’s national record run-scorer has already had a few convivial chats with his Essex team-mate, about county championship-winning days together at Chelmsford et al.

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 Specsavers 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, who has a high regard for Cook on and off the pitch.

“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) even before this series got close, 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 on Tuesday, 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.

His presence will be a significant moment individually and for a team bereft of Stokes’ services for so much of the winter as he waited until the new year to hear he would be charged with affray after an alleged altercation outside a Bristol nightclub last September.

Craig Overton nonetheless remains on stand-by, as the extra seamer required if Stokes were only able to play as a specialist batsman after all.

As such, like Stokes, the Somerset bowler was preparing in the Auckland nets as if he will be involved in New Zealand’s inaugural day-night Test on Thursday.

“That’s always the aim,” said Overton.

“You don’t know till the day before what the side is, so you’ve just got to prepare as if you’re going to play and hope you get the nod when it comes.”

The 23-year-old is back in contention after a cracked rib interrupted an encouraging start to his international career, in the second and third Ashes Tests.

“Obviously, it was frustrating after the injury in Perth, but you’ve got to bounce back from that,” said Overton.

Craig Overton remains on stand-by as the extra seamer (Jason O’Brien/PA)

After his debut in the day-night Test at Adelaide, he predicts exaggerated movement from the pink ball may again accelerate the contest here.

“You want to be bowling in that twilight period and at night with the new ball.

“You’ve seen in games already where captains have declared seven and eight down, and had a go to try to get three or four wickets that night.

“It’s going to happen at some point, and you’ve got to be prepared for that.”

Wagner disagrees.

“There’s been a lot of talk about it, 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.

“Definitely not – if anything it could motivate them to come back stronger.

“England is a proud nation and (has) a quality cricket team, so I wouldn’t expect anything less than this being a really tough series.”

Press Association

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