September 19, 2003

Filling Bond's shoes in India

Fast bowlers have never been known to queue up for service in India, and expressions like "graveyard" and "nightmare" enter the fast men's lexicon and tend to sum up the reputation the pitches enjoy in India. Shane Bond, despite the success that elevated him to international status in India two years ago, will probably be more than happy at home getting ready for the Christmas series against Pakistan.

Men on a mission, Ian Butler (left) and Daryl Tuffey, facing up to India's finest

His absence has cost New Zealand their most valuable strike weapon, but it has provided an opportunity for others to stake their claim for what is one of the busiest nine months in New Zealand cricket history. Home series against Pakistan and South Africa and a tour to England are all in the offing once the India-Pakistan tour is completed at the end of November.

That's where Daryl Tuffey and Ian Butler step in for consideration as the new-ball attack, with Jacob Oram as first change and spinners Daniel Vettori and Paul Wiseman. The Northern Districts pace pair have bowled together at club, first-class and Test level, and are the frontrunners to do it again in India. There is the prospect of competition for the job from Michael Mason, untried at Test level, but a steady performer on the New Zealand domestic scene.

Tuffey, 25, and Butler, 21, do have Test experience. Tuffey goes into the tour on 47 Test wickets at 26.85, while Butler, who last played in New Zealand's Test series-winning victory in the West Indies midway through last year, has 14 wickets at 32.50. Both are under no illusions about what lies ahead. For Butler, it is a chance to get back into selectorial favour after missing out during the last home season, while Tuffey knows there will be some Indian batsmen gunning for him after the last series in New Zealand.

"There will be a bit of vengeance on their minds," said Tuffey, "as both sides bowled well on those tracks last summer - we just made the most of it. I'm looking forward to getting over there in their conditions. We'll be much more of a potential match for them than perhaps they expect. We won't be a walkover, that's for certain. We'll be looking to take matches into the fifth day and putting some pressure on there."

Butler, the relative tyro of the pair, had no qualms about the expected conditions. "Everyone has got to bowl on them. If you want to be a good bowler you have to be able to bowl in all conditions," he said.

Having suffered the disappointment of non-selection last summer, Butler had to go back to domestic cricket, but said it had been beneficial to his approach, especially in one-day cricket. "I knew my one-day record wasn't good, but I managed to put in some good spells for Northern Districts, and it was good to win the State Shield with the side. We always enjoy it when our international players come back to the side, like Daryl or Daniel Vettori, and I wanted to help the side when I came back."

It was during the domestic one-day competition that Butler re-affirmed the potential that saw Sir Richard Hadlee and his fellow selectors pluck him from nowhere to be Bond's replacement for the England series in the summer of 2001-02. While not as fast as Bond, yet, Butler has shown the capacity to learn and spent time this year at Gloucestershire where he came under the eye of incoming New Zealand coach John Bracewell.

"It is disappointing that Shane won't be in India, but I'm rapt that I've got a chance. With the amount of cricket we have to play in the near future, I want to make sure I put my hand up for consideration," he said.

Tuffey knows there has been a perception - real or imagined - that he has been a slow starter in seasons past, but given the build-up the New Zealanders had in Christchurch and then over eight days in Brisbane, he is sure he can hit the ground running in India. "It has been great to get back into the groove, and our build-up has been structured really well by Ashley Ross. We spent a lot of time in the nets, and so did the batters. We've been working to different work loads but the weather was great, the wickets were flat and they were similar conditions to what we will face in India, although probably not as hot as it will be."

Part of the intention of the workload development was to have the bowlers perform as well in their third stint of the day as in their first, and Tuffey felt that had been achieved. Equally, the pressure is on to bowl well in partnership with others in the attack, and Tuffey and Butler enjoy a natural association through their provincial ties.

"I think we complement each other nicely, with him bowling his outswinger and me bowling them in," Butler said. "In fact, it is not only Daryl and I, but you have to work with all the bowlers. You have to look at your over and not ease pressure achieved at the other end by bowling a loose ball that gets hit for four. Daryl helped me when I was in the Counties-Manukau squad at age 17. I looked up to him and what impressed me about him was that he was so consistent and he made the utmost of what he had.

"He's looking very good at the moment and is hitting the crease hard which helps his action," Butler added. Both have been working on their strength during a winter at home this year, and Butler said it had allowed him to make the most of the time in Brisbane.

"It was superb and getting outside gives you some confidence you can do the job. There is nothing like bowling on an outdoors length. The indoor length is completely different," he said.

Tuffey rates highly the developing maturity of Butler, who he says is "a bit like Shane. One of his weapons is pace, and that is a good foil for me. Accuracy is my biggest thing, and by doing that I can let them fire them down at the other end. I've got to know him pretty well, and he's maturing into a fine cricketer, he's learning all the time and is pretty receptive to advice. He's been out of the team for a year and the hunger is there and with everyone looking to be involved for the whole season, he wants to be one of the first to put his hand up."

The New Zealanders fly out on Sunday for two months of tough cricket. But they are relishing the challenge against an Indian team preparing well for the big event, and their own big season.