Cricket: McMillan ready to return from latest injury

Otago fast bowler James McMillan gets in some practice at the University Oval earlier this week. Photo by Gregor Richardson.
Otago fast bowler James McMillan gets in some practice at the University Oval earlier this week. Photo by Gregor Richardson.
Otago fast bowler James McMillan must have had just about every injury in the textbook.

It is little wonder the 34-year-old sounds every bit like a doctor when discussing his latest setback, which has kept him sidelined for all but two Plunket Shield games this summer.

In layman's terms, he rolled his left ankle in a foot hole during Otago's opening four-day game against Canterbury in late October and did some ligament damage.

The experienced right-armer returned to play in the match against Auckland in early December.

''That was two months ago now and it was way too early,'' McMillan said.

''After the Auckland game it [my ankle] just blew up and it put me back.''

Unfortunately, McMillan, who in his prime was one of the quickest bowlers in the domestic game, has become way too familiar with the physio's table, and sighs when asked about his horrid run.

He missed the 2003-04 season with a stress fracture in his back. A shoulder injury brought the 2004-05 season to an early end, and he missed part of 2005-06 season. Then there was a frustrating run with hamstring injuries and a side strain.

Five years ago, he slashed the length of his run-up to help combat his susceptibility to muscle strains.

His latest injury will require surgery in the off-season. It seems the price of generating that bit of extra pace from his wiry frame has taken a heavy toll over the years.

''I don't want to think about that. I train really hard in the gym with Adam Keen, our trainer. He has been awesome with my rehab and I'm back bowling properly now because of him.''

Still, time stops for no-one and McMillan is aware he is in the twilight of his career.

He made his first-class debut in November 2000 against Central Districts at Victoria Park, in Wanganui when the competition was still called the Shell Trophy. Nathan McCullum is the only other survivor from that team, while Aaron Redmond was playing his cricket for Canterbury.

Despite the recent retirements of former team-mates Craig Cumming and Warren McSkimming, McMillan does not have any immediate plans to hang up his boots. He is determined to make the most of what remains of his career but life has certainly changed.

His wife, Carolyn, gave birth to the couple's first child late last year. Son Hunter is 3-months-old.

''I don't want put a time limit on anything. I want to judge it by how the body is feeling. The injury was an unlucky one ... and I was actually feeling really good. But as soon as I can't bowl quick, then I guess that is the time.''

McMillan will play for Otago A against a visiting Tasmanian side today. If he comes through the day unscathed, he will likely be rushed into the Otago side for the remaining day or two of its Plunket Shield game against Northern Districts at the Queenstown Events Centre, which starts today.

With six Otago players named in a New Zealand XI which will play two warm-up twenty/20 games against England in Whangarei on February 4 and February 6, the Volts will need every available body on deck.

A fit McMillan is a huge asset and he has been back bowling for two weeks. He had a good work-out against Otago's top-order batsmen in the nets on Tuesday.

''It felt good. There was no pain. It is more two or three hours afterwards when it tightens up a wee bit.''

Ice, tape and a few painkillers would take care of the worst of the discomfort, he said.

Otago is in second place in the Plunket Shield with 77 points from seven games. Central Districts leads with 92 points and will take some pegging back. But Otago is enjoying a remarkable run of success. The team won 10 twenty/20 matches on the trot to win the HRV Cup and had its biggest first-class win (by an innings and 240 runs) against Wellington last week.

Batsmen Neil Broom (134) and Michael Bracewell (190) played memorable knocks and James Fuller was outstanding, taking 10 wickets in the match. Blair Soper picked up his maiden five-wicket bag in the first innings.

Northern also had a big win in the last round, beating Auckland by an innings and 90 runs. It has retained its squad from that game.