Michael Mason, still bowling them over
Not a lot has changed since Michael Mason made his debut for Central Districts in 1997.
Playing Canterbury in a one-day match at Nelson, the now 36-year-old took two wickets – those of Craig McMillan and Stephen Fleming – and went for just 11 in his six overs. All these years later he's just as parsimonious and still snaring his share of scalps.
Speaking on the eve of tomorrow's Twenty20 final against Auckland, at Colin Maiden Park, the veteran opening bowler said it was not just his economy rate that had stayed much the same.
"I still get really nervous, especially in these Twenty20 games," he said. "So much depends on your opening couple of overs and what you do at the end. Every ball's gold, pretty much, so I'm pretty nervous sometimes and even in the run chases."
From a guy with an almost legendary disdain of introspection and team meetings, an admission of nervousness comes as a shock.
But Mason said jitters were unavoidable in Twenty20 cricket, no matter how long you had been playing. "There's just a lot more on it," he said of the domestic competition.
"There's more people watching it and there's a real reward if you win it, rather than just a trophy. Everyone wants to go over [to the Champions League] and play the best players in the world because it might be the only opportunity they get in their life.
"So it is a big thing."
Big enough for Mason to be nervous while playing, but not for him to have developed a desire to pipe up during those dreaded meetings.
"You can talk too much about outcomes and stuff like that," he said. "I believe there's certain things you need to do. Like when you've got a bit of time off you need to do your fitness and get some bowling under your belt and look after your body.
"Your preparation's important, that's what I believe in. But talking is over-rated. I've never been a big believer in it."
But there's no doubt there's more of it than there was when Mason started.
Sports psychologist Gary Hermansson has worked with the Stags for several seasons, while bowling coach Shane Bond has added another voice of late.
With exciting young quicks in their ranks, such as teenagers Adam Milne and Ben Wheeler, along with Doug Bracewell, 20, talking would seem the best way to get old heads on young shoulders. Or not.
"I definitely like leading by example for these young guys," Mason said. "I think if you can get out there and give it heaps, it's a good way of helping guys learn and it also gives them something to look up to. We've got Bondy at the moment, so if they want to talk to me I just send them to him.
"All the kids that have come through are great little guys and I just try to pat them on the back when they've done well and give them confidence."
It sounds like it's appreciated, too. Keen to see out this season, the recent arrival of a baby girl means Mason doesn't know how long he'll last beyond that. "But Adam Milne says he wants another year out of me before I retire. We'll see.
"I'm not as quick as I used to be but probably a bit more cunning and still enjoying the four-dayers and this Twenty20."
The other big change Mason is weighing up is a move away from his beloved Pahiatua.
"I'm thinking about selling up and going to Palmerston North. My partner's got a 12-year-old and he's going to go to Palmerston North Boys' High, so we're thinking about moving over there for him and to cut down on the travel and stuff.
"So there might be a move in the next year or so."
Between now and then Mason wants to get past Auckland tomorrow and earn an opportunity to atone for September's winless Champions League effort.
Staged in South Africa, CD struggled without star players Ross Taylor, Jacob Oram and Graham Napier but in English left-arm spinners Ian Blackwell and Mike Yardy, Mason believes the Stags are better equipped to compete at this year's edition, which will be played in India.
AT A GLANCE
Name: Michael Mason
Type: Right-arm fast-medium bowler
Team: Central Districts
Twenty20 record: 42 matches, 48 wickets at an average of 23.75, runs per over 7.20
This season: Nine matches, 12 wickets at 17.83, and RPO 6.50
Also: One test, 26 one-day internationals and three T20 internationals for New Zealand
The Dominion Post