Spinner Mark Craig hits mark on test debut

MARK GEENTY
Last updated 05:00 12/06/2014
YOU BEAUTY: Mark Craig is swamped by his team-mates after taking one of his four wickets in the first innings of the Black Caps first test against the West Indies.
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YOU BEAUTY: Mark Craig is swamped by his team-mates after taking one of his four wickets in the first innings of the Black Caps first test against the West Indies.

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It may still have been Mark Who yesterday, to those with a passing acquaintance with New Zealand's cricket team.

After he combined with his old King's College first XI team-mate Tim Southee to skittle West Indies for 262 on debut, Mark Craig's name is becoming a lot more familiar. Even for the television commentator who admitted he had to stop himself referring to the Black Caps off-spinner as Daniel Craig, the actor.

The Auckland born-and-raised Otago Volt now has a chance to bowl New Zealand to their first overseas test victory in 18 months, in spin-friendly Kingston after the tourists began day four of the series opener 260 runs ahead with eight second innings wickets standing. Given the West Indies' loose, listless first innings batting, Shivnarine Chanderpaul excepted, the tourists are a royal chance if they can replicate yesterday.

Early signs were promising from 27-year-old Craig, who after 22 first-class games and a bowling average of 43 got his Caribbean call-up when Jeetan Patel opted to stick with Warwickshire. Not much else was known of Craig, aside from nearly quitting the sport due to chronic fatigue syndrome, being a schoolmate of Southee and an Albion clubmate of skipper Brendon McCullum.

Bowling with your classical off-spinner's action, flighting the ball boldly and trying to rip it as much as possible, he bowled a tidy maiden first over to 100-test veteran Chris Gayle. In his sixth over of test cricket he trapped Kieran Powell lbw and nicked out Kirk Edwards two balls later.

"It was nice to go bang-bang, a bit of a dream start," he said.

Craig ended with 4-91 off 24 overs, just short of becoming the eighth New Zealand bowler to take five on debut. The team's spin bowling coach Paul Wiseman, recent internationals Mark Gillespie and Doug Bracewell, and Southee were also on that list, the latter producing a stellar effort at Sabina Park, too.

The paceman bowled with aggression and hit an impeccable line with some tricky reverse swing, for an analysis of 16.2-9-19-4. He owned Gayle early on then removed the home-town hero and Marlon Samuels within three deliveries to complete a collapse of 5-44.

Now, the question remains, can the bowlers do it again on the final day tomorrow, when the wearing pitch will be at its worst for batting?

He wouldn't bowl in much better spin conditions in a test, and Craig showed he could extract turn and bounce and probe a demanding line with McCullum surrounding the bat. He also outshone New Zealand's No 1 spinner Ish Sodhi, who snared Darren Bravo to a return catch but bowled too many loose ones to take 1-69 off 16.

A big three-test series for Craig could even seal him one of New Zealand Cricket's 20 central contracts, and potential status as the side's top test spinner with Sodhi seen as a long-term project.

"It was nice to contribute to the team. Timmy bowled exceptionally well and set the standard for us and it was nice to chip in with a couple myself," Craig said.

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"With the new ball there was a bit of turn and bounce but as the day wore on there was less consistent turn as the ball got a bit softer. It was a nice breeze coming over the right shoulder so it helps with drifting the ball."

Craig wandered off weary but with a satisfied grin, still struggling to believe what had happened.

"As a kid growing up the pinnacle is playing test cricket so I'm living the dream."

- The Dominion Post

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