Country bowler Mason looks to McGrath model

There's something appropriate about newly-selected New Zealand bowler Michael Mason regarding Australian legend Glenn McGrath as his bowling model. They are both country lads.

Mason, 29 next week, who hails from Mangatainoka, in the northern Wairarapa - a part of the country where its Tui brewery and pub are the only features to disturb the blinking of a driver's eye on the way through - has been a journeyman bowler in the classic New Zealand mould, who was dogged by the most frustrating bad luck during the formative years of his cricket.

The worst example was three seasons ago when he broke his leg while attempting to field a ball from his own bowling during a one-day match for his Central Districts side in Timaru. There are team-mates who are still sickened by what they heard as the leg snapped, in the ankle region, and by what they saw when it was obvious Mason was in distress.

Since then he has come back well, saying it took a year for him to get full mobility and strength back, and then building on that to become one of the most consistent bowlers in the country. It was always likely that he would get a crack at playing for New Zealand. His age for making his international debut may be late by the standards of most countries in the world, but is not unusual for New Zealanders.

When his injury problems are added into the equation, his timing is about right for bowlers who don't tend to mature under New Zealand conditions until their mid-to-late 20s. It is almost unfashionable, in the days of migration from rural areas to towns, for country-based players to make it into international cricket. But Mason enjoys great support from his home region where the enthusiasm for cricket is just as much as in more endowed city areas. After all, he remembers that it was only six or seven years ago when he was playing third grade cricket with his mates there.

And living in the country he didn't have time for sitting in front of the television set watching his particular favourites in action. "No, I just used to get outside and play," was his answer to a question on players who might have affected his interest in the game.

For all that, Mason has spent the winter in Christchurch this year and for the past three or four weeks has been building up in readiness for a new season. The urgency of that exercise has just been increased with his selection for India, which is preceded by a stint at Dennis Lillee's pace bowling clinic in Chennai.

He goes into the tour with a first-class record of 128 wickets at 23.75 from his 38 matches and much more realistic understanding of what he is trying to achieve out in the middle. The freedom from injury over the last few years has given him consistency of match play.

"That has given me bit more of a chance to improve my bowling, mentally more than anything else, and one of the benefits of that experience has been not wasting my energy. There were times when I wondered if I was ever going to get through a season. I've probably looked after myself a lot better recently," he said.

"I'm not the sort of guy who wasted my energy. If there is nothing happening I will try and bowl a bit quicker but if I am feeling a bit tired I have learned not to overdo it."

His motivation, once starting to be noticed, had been simply based on wanting to do his best. That has meant sticking to a plan of not looking too far ahead, and enjoying the moment for what it is and getting the results on the day. Personal goals extend only to keeping the runs per over down and bowling with accuracy.

Called in as 12th man for New Zealand during its two Tests of last summer had been a confidence boost for Mason, more from the point of knowing that he was there or thereabouts and had some goods that the selectors were interested in. And selection for India had left him "excited but nervous."

He was looking forward to the chance, if it arose, of playing Test cricket and putting into action some of the qualities he enjoys in McGrath's bowling - his accuracy and ability to put the ball in the right spot. "He's not a special bowler, but he does special things," Mason said.

For a player who will be opening his passport at its first page when he flies out to the Lillee clinic next weekend, the prospect of visiting India and its vast social extremes was not especially daunting. "It should be good and preparation is the main thing, and getting used to the heat for when we return for the tour. It will certainly be better than the cold in Christchurch."

Mason appreciated what lay ahead for him and the New Zealand pace attack: "It will be hard on the tracks in India, especially after what happened here last year but I am keen to stay in one piece and am fit and raring to go."