Cricket: Martin back after long absence

Bruce Martin reckons he's about due for a New Zealand call-up.

After all, it's been 12 years since his last.

The Auckland spinner is in South Africa, aiming to enjoy an Indian summer in a career which almost began with a dramatic test debut.

The left armer made his first-class debut for Northern Districts in 1999-2000 aged 19 and made such an impact he was named in the New Zealand 12 for the third and final test against Australia at Hamilton in March that season.

"Tuffers [Daryl Tuffey] and I were living together and I rang him up and said, 'I've just got a phone call, I'm in the Black Caps'," Whangarei-born Martin said. "He said, 'so have I', and it was his debut, too."

The way Martin remembers it, he was set to play but several days of rain meant the Seddon Park covers stayed in place and Tuffey got the nod, but it didn't work out well. Tuffey got none for 127 as a powerful Australian side won by six wickets.

Martin, meanwhile, went to Taupo for the Shell Trophy final against Auckland and took eight wickets in the match to set up a 267-run win.

It had been a terrific season for Martin. He took 37 wickets at 17 apiece, including 12 for 55 against Auckland in a round-robin game at Taupo's Owen Delany Park. There was a touch of teenage prodigy about him.

They remained his best first-class season figures until he matched it last summer.

So what happened? All seemed set fair for Martin to enjoy a decent international run.

"I was so young then," he said. "I didn't know what was going on. It was just a whirlwind, and it never really happened."

He remembers Seddon Park in those days had little in it for the spinners. "It just went really flat, it was bloody hard work."

He had a few lean seasons, was in and out of the New Zealand A side but his form flatlined so that he was treading water as a capable first-class bowler without being able to take the next step.

Dan Vettori was by then well established. Others like Paul Wiseman and, more latterly, Jeetan Patel were around when a second spinner was needed, which was rare.

Martin knew he needed a change to reinvigorate his game. He moved north for the 2010-11 season and hasn't looked back.

In the three-and-a-half seasons since, he's taken 84 wickets at 31.4 each, a few runs better than his overall numbers. But it's the mindset that has really changed and for that he's indebted to Auckland captain Gareth Hopkins.

"I'm trying to get wickets now. Down there [at ND] I'd get asked to bowl 10 maidens until the new ball because we had all the seamers," he said.

"I was a stock bowler. Hoppy says, 'Go and get some wickets'. When the game is on the line, he throws me the ball, which is a bloody good feeling, too."

His batting has come on as well, with a second first-class hundred (114 against ND last month) and he's averaging 40 this season.

Most of all perhaps, he's "absolutely loving" his cricket and is adamant he's "easily" bowling better than he ever has.

When he was picked in the test squad for South Africa the mind briefly flashed back 12 years.

"Yeah, I was a little bit surprised. I was wondering who the hell's calling me at 8am on a day off. 'Hello? Oh, gidday mate'," he laughed.

So what of this chance? Vettori is sidelined by injury. Wellington offspinner Patel is in the Republic too and has been around a while without really nailing a spot.

"I have to take it as it could be the start of something. I think I've got five or six good years left in me.

"I'm just 32, I know my game pretty well, have got it sorted and I'm enjoying myself so hopefully there could be good things to come."

He knows his figures stand up well against his rivals and part of him also takes the view that "it's a just reward because I've worked my arse off in the last couple of years and I feel I've got the game to play test cricket".

It has been, he acknowledged, "a long haul, and you might as well start at the top, against the best team".

You'd like to think this story has a happy ending sometime in the next fortnight.

- By David Leggat of the New Zealand Herald

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