New Zealand v South Africa, 2nd Test, Hamilton, 2nd day March 16, 2012

'Five doctors told me I shouldn't be playing' - Gillespie

Both on the field and off, Mark Gillespie is one hard man: he keeps things brief when he talks, and just bowls and bowls and bowls, even through the all the pain

One of the five doctors Mark Gillespie saw in the last two years, for advice on his persistent back injury, told him to take up commentary. Had Gillespie taken those words seriously, television viewers around the world would be stunned by his curt usage of the English language, his abrasive tone and, if the camera ever panned to him, the look of disgust mixed with a strange kind of thoughtfulness on his face as he spoke. They would have been thoroughly entertained by his naked honesty.

After a career-best five-for on his Test comeback - which ended an absence of more than three years from the national side - Gillespie was asked what many in the same position and at the same age, 32, would have been expected to be quizzed on: during his time out of the side, did he ever he think he would play for New Zealand again? "Yeah," came the answer, with a stare as icy as the Dunedin wind. And a pause. Long enough to make everyone in the room, except Gillespie, uncomfortable.

Finally, more words. "It's why I play, otherwise I would have packed it in when the five doctors I saw told me I shouldn't be playing anymore. That's why I keep going." The same icy stare. The same awkward silence. The same shifting in the seats. In those few seconds it was clear that both on the field and off, Gillespie is one hard man.

During the 2009 series against West Indies he had hurt his back and no amount of medical advice could put him back together again. "It was a joint problem and no-one knew what it was," he said. "I was just in a lot of pain and couldn't bowl and then got to the point when I just thought 'Stuff it, I'm just going to give it a crack. I've bowled in pain my whole life so why not just keep doing it?'"

Instead of stopping mid-tale this time, Gillespie went on. "So after a while, I just pushed through the pain, and then my leg, because of all the pain of what my back was doing, my thigh fell apart. Twice. And it [the injuries] was just going around in circles and then it just took a lot of time."


What happened then? Did he recover completely before getting to where he is now? "It's just been a case of bowling again. And plenty of bowling. The reward has come from that," he said. Gillespie has enjoyed a phenomenal few weeks, in which he has taken 30 first-class wickets in six matches. All he will say is that he still feels the hurt. "As one of my idols once said, you're lying if you say that you're a fast bowler and you say that you bowl pain-free." So, who is the idol? "He's at this ground. But he's not part of our camp." That's all Gillespie would say.

It may be Allan Donald, who was part of the New Zealand set up before he moved to the South Africa job. It may be Shane Bond, who has had injuries throughout his career. It may be Dale Steyn, someone Gillespie may have admired from afar, when he made his debut in the 2007 series against South Africa, the one in which Steyn took 20 wickets in two matches.

It's entirely possible that no one will ever know. Gillespie is a stranger even to his own media, having only met one of the of the current press corp in the past. No one really seems to know the reason for his elusiveness, some say he does not enjoy talking to the press, others, that he is afraid of them. It's difficult to imagine Gillespie being afraid of anyone.

He certainly wasn't scared of the South Africa line-up, neither was he overwhelmed by the names of the men he dismissed - that included Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis. "I don't really care who I get out just, so long as I get wickets," he said. "You are contributing to the team. Obviously it helps the team cause if you get out the top order, but to me if you're getting guys out it's just as important. It's a team job."

He didn't pay much attention to whether South Africa's batsmen were caught by surprise, considering they have only seen him once before. "They saw me on debut, so they would still have that footage, and I think I have bowled pretty much the same as then." Or to the fact that he has played against them before. "I don't think it added anything [beneficial to my bowling]. It's just another opposition, really." Nor did he let advice from Ross Taylor and the management cloud his mind too much. "Just do what I do [is what they said], pretty much. It's pretty simple, just run in and bowl. The team knows what I can do and it was just backing my own ability."

Typically, he kept it short when he explained the secret to his success, the feeling of being back in the international game and everything that is right with his game at the moment - he managed to fit it all in two sentences: "It's a good reward for doing something I love. I will just bowl and bowl and bowl, and if wickets fall, it makes me even happier."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent