Cricket: Craig happy to leave dark times in past

By David Leggat

Otago spinner thrilled to make West Indies tour after battle with debilitating illness.

'It can't get better' said Mark Craig on learning he will tour the West Indies with the Black Caps. Photo / Sarah Ivey
'It can't get better' said Mark Craig on learning he will tour the West Indies with the Black Caps. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Mark Craig not only provides the surprise element in the New Zealand team to tour the West Indies, he is also a cracking story of determination in a time of considerable personal stress.

Four years ago Craig was wondering what life had in store as he battled chronic fatigue syndrome, just at a time when he should have been contemplating the next step in a promising cricket career.

Aucklander Craig had gone south to Otago, and had just completed a full T20 season in 2008-09 when the illness struck.

For 11 months he fought, and eventually won, his battle. Now he can contemplate what must have seemed unimaginable in that dark year - the prospect of making the big stage for New Zealand in the Caribbean.

"To be honest, I didn't know if I'd ever get back to doing anything," he said yesterday of that period. "Playing cricket at that time was out the back of my mind. I was trying to concentrate on finding out what was wrong with me, get a speedy recovery and living life normally again."

Sleep was a problem. Craig admits he went "a little stir crazy" for a time, unable to take part in normal activities without having to stop and rest. Study for a marketing management degree had to go on hold because he could not retain information.

Now fully fit, Craig gets his chance. His 43 wickets from 22 Plunket Shield games have cost 42 apiece, but he gives the ball a good rip, likes taking an aggressive approach rather than drop into a holding pattern.

"The ball is coming out the best it has for a very long time," he said. "To get an opportunity to play for your country, it can't get better than that."

National coach and selector Mike Hesson said Craig had been in their thinking and was already in the A team to tour England in mid-year.

Two elements gave Craig's progress a solid shove forward - Jeetan Patel's withdrawal on Monday night, after being named in the squad, and the makeup of the tour schedule.

Patel, unwanted since a disastrous tour of South Africa at the start of last year, was the first-choice offspinner but counted himself out for what Hesson said were personal reasons.

Veteran left-arm spinner Dan Vettori had been targeting the West Indies tour to return to the national team after lengthy injury problems had halted his career. However, the dropping of a planned five ODIs from the schedule counted against the country's second highest test wicket taker.

"We didn't feel putting him into a test ill-prepared was the best thing for him or us," Hesson said.

However, he insisted the former captain remains firmly in the selectors' thinking.

Just three frontline seamers have been chosen - not because Hesson and national selection manager Bruce Edgar doubted there were other strong candidates, but more due to the balance of the group.

A second wicketkeeper, Luke Ronchi, is there to provide quality support in spin-friendly conditions to test incumbent BJ Watling and avoid the prospect of using part-timer Tom Latham on a trip where the Canterbury batsman should be focusing on demonstrating his test batting credentials.

The last time New Zealand toured the Caribbean they were undone by Sunil Narine's crafty spin. Hesson is expecting a similar plan from the West Indies.

So Craig and legspinner Ish Sodhi loom as potential key figures for New Zealand. Not a bad way to start an international career which for a time wasn't even a blip on Craig's radar.

Tour schedule

New Zealand team to tour the West Indies: Brendon McCullum (c), Hamish Rutherford, Peter Fulton, Tom Latham, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Corey Anderson, Jimmy Neesham, BJ Watling, Luke Ronchi, Ish Sodhi, Mark Craig, Tim Southee, Neil Wagner, Trent Boult.

• May 29: v WI XI, Jamaica
• June 2: v WI XI, Jamaica
• June 8-12: 1st test, Jamaica
• June 16-20: 2nd test, Trinidad
• June 26: 3rd test, Guyana
• July 5: 1st T20, Dominica
• July 6: 2nd T20, Dominica

New Zealand A team to tour England: Watling (c), Anton Devcich, Rutherford, Latham, Daryl Mitchell, Dean Brownlie, Grant Elliott, Colin Munro, Colin de Grandhomme, Scott Kuggeleijn, Ish Sodhi, Matt Henry, Hamish Bennett, Adam Milne. (Todd Astle, Michael Bracewell and Craig join for the three-day matches, replacing Devcich, Munro and Sodhi.)

• July 31: v Northamptonshire
• Aug 2: v Warwickshire
• Aug 5: v Sri Lanka A
• Aug 8: v England Lions
• Aug 9: v Sri Lanka A
• Aug 12: v Lions
• Aug 15: v Scotland
• Aug 17: v Scotland
• Aug 21: v Scotland
• Aug 25-27: v Kent
• Aug 31-Sept 2: v Surrey.

- NZ Herald

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