Daniel Vettori is in a race against time to prove his fitness for the test series against England in New Zealand in March after aggravating his injury training with Australian Twenty20 outfit, the Brisbane Heat.
An Achilles injury kept Vettori out of the series in the West Indies, India, Sri Lanka and South Africa. He will have missed 10 tests in a row if he can't play against England.
Vettori, who turns 34 next month, has had a number of recent injuries including a hernia, a groin strain and the Achilles complaint.
After featuring only in three Twenty20 Big Bash League matches for Brisbane Heat last season ( hamstring injury), Vettori signed a new three-year contract - but has since been sidelined by the injury he aggravated in the first week of December.
"I'd like to step back on the park as quickly as possible but it's a three- to four-month process so I'm hoping to get back around mid-March and be able for my domestic team [Northern Districts] and, if things go well, then New Zealand," Vettori said in Australia, where he has been helping with the Heat in a coaching capacity.
"My injury is not too bad but unfortunately Achilles injuries take longer than you would like to heal."
Vettori's plan has always been to build up slowly, using T20.
England's tour begins in February with a schedule of Twenty20s and one day internationals before the tests beginning on March 10, 18 and 26 in Dunedin, Wellington and Auckland respectively.
Vettori was counting the three- to four-months as starting from aggravating the injury in the first week of December - and that must put his availability against England in some doubt. His absence against England would be keenly felt, particularly as New Zealand are still seeking an adequate replacement.
Legspinner Todd Astle was tried in Sri Lanka along with Jeetan Patel but was replaced by veteran Auckland offspinner Bruce Martin for the current tour of South Africa.
Vettori initially instructed Heat officials not to make his three-year deal public until his 2012-13 New Zealand commitments were confirmed.
"Particularly signing this year for three years, even though I've missed this season of the Big Bash, it's been good being around the management and the group so it won't be as tough coming in the build up to 2013-14," he said.
However, Vettori has been given hope of a recovery that could see him make the tests after he visited leading Melbourne specialist Jill Cook - who gave him a positive long-term diagnosis.
"It was worth making the trip to Australia to see her alone," Vettori said. "I also feel that when you are not training or playing you can actually take a step back and see how guys prepare and if you can offer anything, hopefully it's of some assistance."
Vettori and Scott Styris are the only New Zealanders in the second season of the Big Bash. Black Caps skipper Brendon McCullum, his brother Nathan, and James Franklin, were in last year's inaugural Big Bash.
Vettori expects more Kiwis to follow if there are no scheduling clashes with international fixtures in the future.
"More New Zealand players will play in the Big Bash in the future but it's a packed international itinerary so it's never easy to fit everything in," he said. "One of the things that really attracted me to play for Brisbane Heat is the organisation, coaching, and high performance environment that is about playing good cricket. That's what will attract more New Zealand players to want to come here."
Brisbane Heat have only won two of their five matches and are outsiders to feature in the semifinals.
Last season's first international signing, Vettori scored 40 in his only innings with the bat, while his two wickets cost 44 runs apiece, compared to his overall T20 international average of 37 wickets at 19.45 from 37 matches.By Ahmer Khokhar