Ian Butler March 30, 2014

'I played Tests too early'

Ian Butler talks about his highs and lows, the thrill of playing at Otago, and the biggest dressing-room joker he's seen

You were told ten years ago you would never bowl again. It looks like they got that one wrong, doesn't it?
It just shows that what is the medically "normal" diagnosis of an injury can be worked through. Maybe my back wasn't in a great shape but over the last few years it hasn't got any worse - and I know how to manage it.

When you came into the New Zealand side you were replacing Shane Bond, one of the country's greatest bowlers. How difficult was it to fill his shoes at such a young age?
In no way did I ever fill them. He was a superb bowler and was one of the players I aspired to emulate. The biggest issue was learning for my first few years of cricket at the international level. I had played two List A games and three first-class games when I was picked. I had no idea about how to play any form of cricket. I didn't know my game and to say I was very fresh was an understatement.

In a way, I'm glad NZC has built such depth as the youngsters now hopefully will get two or three years to learn how to bowl through playing. Only by learning from different experiences at first-class level can you build a game that will withstand international cricket.

How close were you - or are you - to walking away from New Zealand to play county cricket over in England?
That's something I have to consider. We have such depth now that maybe it's an option, a fresh challenge that can sometimes stimulate that never-ending search to be the best you can be. In the early days it wasn't even something that crossed my mind as you always dream of representing your country against the best in the world.

What would be the toughest thing about doing that?
Leaving the culture we have got at Otago cricket. They are great people throughout, from the players to the staff.

Your New Zealand debut came in 2002 - and your last game was last year. Were there times during that 11-year period when you wondered if you'd ever play again?
Lots. The doubts are part of any sport. My way through that is to focus on the steps. You must prove your worth to get picked at provincial level, and with the wickets we play on in New Zealand and the boundary sizes, it's a tough game as a bowler. In a way, now you can relax. If you do the job and contribute to a successful team on and off the field then you give yourself a chance of higher honours.

How do you see your international future now?
No one ever gives up. Before the hiccup this summer I was in the ODI and T20 side, but with the emergence of so many quality allrounders and seamers, I'm probably behind the eight ball. I can't control the players in front of me so I just focus on what I can do to help Otago win games.

Pick the highlight of your career so far.
The Test series win in West Indies with Bondy and [Daryl] Tuffey was pretty special. Also, the Volts' 16-game T20 winning streak through our domestic competition and into the Champions League was amazing to be a part of. They are a great bunch of guys with so much talent and belief. We managed to win games from positions we shouldn't have.

You have played Tests, ODIs, T20s and four-day cricket. What form of the game do you enjoy most?
I would say Tests. Sadly I played too early to have a good record, and got injured just as I started to understand my game - but it's the pinnacle and what the best are remembered by.

Who is the best coach you have ever worked under?
Mike Hesson and John Bracewell were two that stood out to me. Sadly Braces had me as a young tearaway and probably tore his hair out! The strength of both of them was man-management. Coaching at the elite level isn't so much technical, it's about working out how 15 different players need to be treated to maximise performance. Hess outlined my roles well and gave me confidence to play them without fear. Bowling at the death and batting in clutch situations in limited-overs games requires that.

And who is the best captain you have played under?
Baz [Brendon McCullum] is awesome for his aggression and no fear. He always wants you to take the foot-forward option and if you back your plan he will too. I also enjoyed Dan's [Daniel Vettori] captaincy. He has a great cricket brain and didn't say much. When he did it was always spot on.

Who has been the biggest dressing-room joker you've played with?
Chris Harris. What a legend. There was never a boring second with him around. He'd always be trying to kick some object a metre above eye level. One moment of hilarity that sticks was him in India throwing biscuits up into the circulating fan blades. The changing room was covered in biscuit particles. Harry thought this was great fun until he was told to clean it all up.

And who has had the worst banter in any dressing room you've been in?
Scott Styris. He's a constant chatterer about cricket trivia questions that he is the answer to.

What would you rather do: be hit by six Brett Lee bouncers or to be dump-tackled by Richie McCaw?
Neither appeal, really. I'll go with the tackle and hope the ground is soft.

Which of your team-mates past or present is the best fun on a night out?
Daryl Tuffey. He's the world's best player of the coin-game Spoof. Aaron Redmond has an obsession with anyone owning a snapback cap. Maybe it's to cover the hint of a comb-over.

Who would be the last at the bar to get a round in?
Scott Styris. He's the clear winner.