Shane Bond December 24, 2009

The lionheart who never held back

David Leggat
Shane Bond was never going to compromise on his greatest strength, pace, despite everything thrown at him

If you want a moment that tells all you need to know about Shane Bond, Test bowler, think back a few weeks to his return to the long game.

Gone from the New Zealand team for two years, courtesy an abdominal injury that ultimately did for him this week as a Test player, and his signing with the Indian Cricket League, Bond returned for the opening Test against Pakistan in Dunedin. On the third afternoon, Pakistan were moving along comfortably enough at 74 for 2. Then Bond came back for his second spell, and, as so often the case, he changed the shape of the match.

Mohammad Yousuf struck a delivery back low and hard. Bond, with an athleticism that so often belied his wretched medical history, stretched down in his follow-through to clutch, two-handed, a marvellous catch.

Inspired, he swiftly removed two more wickets in 10 balls. Spectators leaned forward in their seats. Suddenly the contest had a distinctive edge to it. Bond, at up around 150kph, was back, and wasn't New Zealand's bowling attack so much better for it.

His retirement from Tests was no surprise in one sense. Yet in another way it was.

Nature did not treat him kindly. His body was subject to the inordinate stresses known to all genuinely fast bowlers. Some handle it better than others for all sorts of reasons. Bond was not lucky in that sense. And yet, having worked his socks off to get back where he wanted to be after his two-year absence, he seemed to have ticked the boxes off. He strove desperately hard, did everything he had been advised to in physical terms. Having discovered during his two years away how much he missed international cricket, he was determined to go the whole hog - rather like his philosophy with the ball in hand.

The early signs for his provincial team, Canterbury, were encouraging. However that was one-day cricket. Could his body cope with the expectation of 20 overs a day? Dunedin provided the answer. He bowled 48.5 overs, took a Man-of-the-Match-winning 8 for 153, doing more than most to push New Zealand to a thrilling win on a sunlit final afternoon.

The naysayers who doubted the wisdom of Bond's return to the five-day game, and whether he could regain his pace of yore, were put in their place. Yet in the wake of his Test retirement the numpties of radioland were out slagging him off for being soft, and sneering that he'd still play ODIs and Twenty20 cricket and probably head to the IPL. That ignores the fact that hammering through 20-plus overs a Test is rather more stressful than the 10 or four of the shorter games.

New Zealand will miss the sharp point Bond provided to the Test attack. There is a similarity among New Zealand's other fast-medium men, such as Kyle Mills, Chris Martin, Tim Southee and the just-retired Iain O'Brien - all hard workers with moments of inspiration. Bond added genuine hostility. Those bowling at the other end would benefit from his presence.

Nature did not treat him kindly. His body was subject to the inordinate stresses known to all genuinely fast bowlers. Some handle it better than others for all sorts of reasons. Bond was not lucky in that sense

There was the argument that he should dial back his pace to protect a back held together by titanium screws and wire. But that goes against every part of Bond's personality. Against Pakistan he reminded us that every delivery was, to use the term, an "effort" ball. There were no half measures. Bond doesn't get the point of that. For him, bowling fast - shedding a few runs if need be - was his job, and he loved it. He has said that, given a choice between having a lengthier career doing a stock standard job, several kilometres an hour slower, and being himself, was no choice.

Bond the person is an open book in the sense that what you see is what you get. He is ramrod-straight, there is nothing prima donna-ish about him. He answers his phone when journalists call, rather than let it run to a message that can be ignored; he talks as he bowls: direct, to the point. No grey areas. No smart-alec answers, no ducking curly questions. In short, he's a sportswriter's dream.

One story gives a clue to the character of the man.

On the morning he received the grim news that the Dunedin injury was worse than feared, and the dark voices began telling him his Test days were up, he was due to meet a journalist in the team's Wellington hotel foyer. The reporter noticed when he walked in that Bond seemed not himself. ''Give me five minutes,'' was the gist of the greeting.

Doing the interview was probably the last thing he fancied, given what was rattling round in his head. Instead, he fulfilled the obligation made the day before, with grace and goodwill. Lesser men would have waved it off, or at least postponed it.

A lesser man might also have taken the easy path out of his ICL deal when things were getting tasty between the rival Twenty20 operations and he was being leaned on. But Bond had given his word; that was that.

He is not afraid to have a chuckle at his own expense. Asked how he thought he would be remembered in Test terms, he laughed: ''As someone who was injured a lot.''

Of his 18 Tests, New Zealand won 10; from his first Test to his last, New Zealand played 66 tests. Was he sorely missed? You bet. Bond fell short of 100 Test wickets. He didn't play a Test at Lord's. There will be disappointments.

The good news? He's still around for the shorter games. He's relished butting heads with Australia. Five ODIs are beckoning. His record against them in that form is remarkable: 35 wickets in 12 games at 14.45 apiece.

The Dunedin Test turned out to be a teaser, as if to show what the New Zealand public had been deprived of for so much of his career.

Those who bag him miss the point. He didn't need to come back to Test cricket; he wanted to. Softy? More a lionheart.

David Leggat is chief cricket writer and chief sports reporter of the New Zealand Herald

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