Cricketer Mark Craig has been through rougher patches in the last year than anything which might emerge on the fifth day of a subcontinental pitch.

The New Zealand off-spinning all-rounder suffered a side strain after the first test against India in September, busted a medial collateral ligament in his knee upon returning home, and required surgery in February to fix a bulging disc in his back.

October 23 is the date penciled-in for the start of the Plunket Shield. If Craig plays the opening match for Otago, it will be more than a year since he appeared at provincial or international level.

He started bowling what he terms "seam release" deliveries four weeks ago, but the crouch of his left-handed batting stance proved a bigger enemy in his rehabilitation.


"We had a four-day game in Invercargill [against Canterbury in mid-November] but I had to stop every 20 minutes to get out of the car because my back was so sore.

"I had a fitness test at University Oval [the following week]. I walked out of the batting net after five or six balls, then I had a fielding session, got halfway down to get a ball and thought 'that's not happening'. I was confident I wasn't going to get through a four-day game."

The post-surgery period proved frustrating.

"It was a case of lie down, get comfortable, get up and walk around, and try to lie down again. There was a lot of doing nothing. Until they've had a back issue people say it must be fun chilling out watching movies, but do it for a week and you start going stir crazy.

"I wasn't even allowed to sit in my car too long. I would end up driving from my flat to University Oval for treatment, but by the time I got home I was sore again. The debilitation gets to you because you need your back to do everything."

Craig says missing an entire summer's cricket is one of the hardest things he's endured, and that's from a man who had chronic fatigue syndrome for the best part of a year after contracting it in 2009.

"I got sciatica with pins and needles running down my left leg the whole time. I lost movement, then got a bit lazy and ended up taking goodness knows how many pills for my nerves, alongside anti-inflammatories and muscle relaxants.

"I was hopeful of it going back [to normal] by itself, then in December I rang New Zealand Cricket and said the injury was going nowhere fast. Feeling lethargic from pills is not a nice way to live. It was tough getting out of bed, and I wasn't sleeping well."

A second opinion saw an epidural cortisone injection into the root of his nerve to check if it reduced the inflammation, but after three weeks surgery was deemed the best option.

"I was lucky enough to get it done across a two to three week turnaround. There was a slip up when I went back to hospital for six days, but after that there's been a steady incline to where I am now.

"It made me realise how much I miss playing cricket. When you have something you've done since four or five-years-old taken away, it makes you feel pretty vulnerable.

"However, I was probably more confident of coming back from this, whereas the scariest thing with chronic fatigue was that I couldn't really see an end."

Mark Craig was originally selected for New Zealand's victorious 2014 tour of the West Indies because Daniel Vettori and Jeetan Patel were unavailable.

As man-of-the-match he spun the Black Caps to victory with eight wickets for 188 runs in Kingston, the best figures by a New Zealand bowler on debut. He backed up later in the year with 10 wickets for 203 runs against Pakistan in Sharjah to level the series.

Craig has struggled on occasion since, particularly in Australia, but could never be accused of giving up on his way to 50 wickets at 46.52 from 15 tests. His batting average of 36.81, including three fifties has also proven handy in the lower order.

The 30-year-old says there were times he felt like 70 in his recovery, but retirement never crossed his mind.

With only four tests bookending the summer on what are likely to be pace-friendly surfaces, Craig acknowledges the next stage of his career might require him to adapt better to limited overs formats.​

"Test cricket is the pinnacle, but you've got to be realistic. Having had a year out of the game, I've got to concentrate on putting performances together for the Volts. I need a whole season injury free to get back into the swing of things under our new coaches Rob [Walter] and Anton [Roux].

"I'm excited as to how they're going to develop my game in T20 and one-day cricket. It's something fun to look forward to. At no stage has it been daunting."

"It's about taking wickets to control run rates, but how do you go about it? Your lengths change and those subtleties need to come into my game. Batting-wise I've already started sweeping, lapping, reverse-sweeping and reverse-lapping which I've never done. It's about accessing those tools in your locker so they're not foreign."