RIBBING, among teammates and from the opposition players at the height of competition, is something Bevan Small will readily take in domestic cricket.
What the Devon Hotel Central Districts Stags player isn't prepared to stomach is the cheap shots from within his constitution - the 11th rib, to be more precise - for the past four seasons.
"The 11th rib is hitting the top of my hip bone," the 21-year-old right-arm medium-fast bowler from Manawatu says from Nelson just before the Stags host the Northern Districts Knights today at Saxton Oval.
The resumption of the HRV Cup Twenty20 competition offers Small and a win-less CD the opportunity to redeem themselves.
The Heinrich Malan-coached Stags have yet to register a win in either the T20 or four-day Plunket Shield competitions this summer.
"I've been struggling but in the Twenty20s I'll hopefully get four overs to get back into it," Small says of the game that begins at 3pm.
He went under a surgeon's knife in April this year for the ongoing problem following myriad diagnoses.
"I was so sick of coming to so many dead ends," he laments, emphasising the surgery isn't 100 per cent guaranteed after persisting in previous seasons with injections and other remedies.
The dreaded symptoms returned early this season despite his move to approach the summer gingerly.
"I decided to have it [surgery] done so fingers crossed it won't trouble me anymore for months," says Small, who has been monitoring and managing his bowling loads while working during and off season with Malan.
He hasn't taken his selection for granted today but is hopeful Malan, the selectors and skipper Kieran Noema-Barnett will include him in the equation to prove his worthiness in a side that desperately need a victory for peace of mind, if nothing else.
"It's been four years so I'm getting used to it now.
"There's seven games left [in the T20s] so hopefully I'll get the nod tomorrow to help do the job with the ball for our first win," says Small, keen to be back in the CD culture and hoping to experience for the first time how first-season coach Malan operates on game days.
The Freyberg club cricketer from Palmerston North isn't reaching for the panic button just yet when asked if his days in whites are numbered.
He hastens to add he did bowl 30 overs against the Michael Mason-coached Manawatu team in their Hawk Cup thrashing of the Property Brokers Hawke's Bay in the two-day match at Nelson Park, Napier, early this month.
Small shot to prominence in the T20 arena in January 2012 when, as a substitute fielder, he and former Black Caps seamer Mason dismissed Auckland Aces batsman Brad Wilson at Colin Maiden Park, Auckland.
Twelfth man Small, lurking on the boundary at cow corner, made ground to snaffle the ball in one hand but, as he hurtled over the boundary rope, tossed the ball back to veteran Mason, advancing to back up his fielder, to dismiss Wilson for 43 runs.
The field antics went viral on the internet, registering a million hits on YouTube within days.
With two losses and a washed-out draw, CD will need some heroics to keep their T20 playoffs alive today.
Nevertheless, Noema-Barnett feels his troops need not put themselves in a mind swamp with any unnecessary obsessions of eking out a win.
While disappointed with their efforts in their rain-interrupted, drawn shield match against the Otago Volts in Dunedin on Monday, he believes it's time his men focused on attending to the "little things" and the winning aspect will take care of itself.
CD have signed up English import Josh Cobb, a Leicestershire county player, while ND will have Big Bash (Thunder) fast bowler Chris Tremain making his debut today.
However, the key to victory may well be in the hands of former Black Caps Jacob Oram (CD) and Scott Styris (ND).
A predominantly young side from CD will rely on Oram's aggression on display in his first outing against Wellington Firebirds last month.
Unwanted Black Caps test seamer Doug Bracewell is still nursing a groin injury.