Mason looking forward to injury-free season

Central Districts bowler Michael Mason is used to having trophies on his wall, his hobby is hunting in the bush of Wairarapa's Ruahine Mountains.

But his recreation is cricket and, having recovered from a shoulder injury which prevented him touring England with the New Zealand 'A' team over the winter, he is looking to add to his already impressive list of cricket trophies.

Most memorable among them is that of Indian legend Sachin Tendulkar, caught by Craig Spearman for five, when Central Districts (CD) dismissed India for 103 on a sporting pitch in Napier in December 1998.

That injury which niggled at him all last summer confined him to finishing with 14 wickets at 19.71 in first-class matches. In his chance against Australia for CD he was able to bowl only three overs before the injury forced him from the bowling crease.

Keyhole surgery in June reduced a cyst he had in his shoulder and while he is still having some discomfort when throwing, he is confident he will be in action come October when club play starts again.

That Mason is playing cricket to the level he is something of a minor miracle.

He was a late arrival on the first-class scene, debuting in 1997/98 at the age of 23.

Before that, his work in a dairy factory meant he was only able to play club cricket and representative cricket for Manawatu when his shifts were suitable.

"I only ever played about 10 club games a season," he said.

But given the chance to opt for redundancy in his job he took it, and poured himself into his cricket. He trained with the Manawatu team during the winter and in the new season made the CD squad. From there, he hasn't looked back.

He's got 40 first-class wickets to his name, in 13 matches, at the average of 21.95, healthy figures that he's keen to improve on.

"I've been training for a little while now and am feeling all right. It's been a reasonably slow recovery.

"But since playing for CD I've been injured every off-season. The first year I had heel problems, which was the result of inexperience when bowling with not a lot of padding around my feet.

"The second year was when I had my first sign of a shoulder problem. I didn't really get a chance to rest it in the off season because I went to the Academy for the winter [the New Zealand Cricket High Performance Centre at Lincoln University]," he said.

That Academy experience also allowed the first opportunity for concentrated coaching for Mason, a time when his raw talent, which had none of the benefits of representative age-group cricket, had some rough edges rounded off.

"I loved it there. Living in the country you have no real chance to train regularly. But at the Academy, it was all there in front of you and you can improve a lot," he said.

Mason might feel that his late start in first-class cricket has contributed to his injury problems, but he does have a good base of stamina, which he is keen to put to use this summer.

As much as he loves getting among the wickets, Mason also likes his hunting, especially at the end of the cricket season in April when the stags are roaring.

"I love getting out to the outdoors. I would be up there every week. I've managed to get plenty of red deer and have one that will be a trophy mounted on a friend's wall soon. I love it, it's good for the fitness," he said.

As for this summer he wants to put that fitness to the test and to survive the season.

"There's a lot of cricket but I'm feeling pretty fit," he said.

Bowling to the Indians and Australians in matches over the past two summers has been the high points of his career.

"It was really good bowling to them. I did pretty well. It wasn't too much fun bowling to Sachin Tendulkar with the old ball. In that sort of situation you just have to bowl line and length.

Having been dismissed so cheaply by Mason in the first innings, Tendulkar opted to give other batsmen in the side a chance to atone for their failures and came in at No 7 in the second innings.

India was 133 for five, and still 100 behind CD's 336. By the time Tendulkar left he had scored 154, honour was restored and an innings defeat averted. However, CD had to chase only 158 to win which it managed for the loss of three wickets.

Last year against Australia, injury meant Mason took little part in bowling, although he did manage to make life uncomfortable for Matthew Hayden when dismissing him for one.

But Mason's batting effort hinted at the value of his winter at the Academy. He scored 21 in CD's first innings of 160 and in the second innings was 30 not out when CD declared at 320 for nine, the match ending in a draw.

Hanging around a little longer than was comfortable for the Australians meant he was able to not only face up to speedster Brett Lee, but to also learn about the Aussie art of conversation as it applies out in the middle in cricket.

Mason thrived on it and, with his injury worries hopefully behind him now; he is looking forward to making a big impact with CD this year as it is without Andrew Penn who has transferred to Wellington.

CD and Manawatu team-mate Glen Sulzberger said Mason's height was a useful weapon in his bowling.

"He bowls very upright and because of that gets more bounce than many bowlers. He also has a real ability to swing the ball away to the slips quite late. He also bowls at a reasonable clip and at times can remind you of Glenn McGrath with the channels he bowls.

"There'll be a few batsmen not looking at facing him this year," he said.

With Mason and Lance Hamilton opening the bowling, CD would be well equipped to test most top-orders around the country. And that could be a key to any hopes CD has of taking out major honours.