Black Caps pace trio back in business
It was an old boys' reunion even the most ardent New Zealand cricket follower would have struggled to envisage.
Shane Bond, Ian Butler and Daryl Tuffey probably had doubts as well over the intervening seasons, but in Tuesday night's Tri-Series one-dayer against Sri Lanka they formed New Zealand's three-pronged pace attack for the first time in more than seven years.
The trio last hunted as a pack at Kensington Oval, Bridgetown, Barbados, in June 2002 – and it was a successful expedition as the West Indies were humbled by 202 runs in the first test to tee up a historic series win in the Caribbean.
Injuries then became a byword of their respective careers, particularly for Bond and Butler.
While Bond's list of ailments resemble a medical almanac, Butler's inoperable back problems were the root cause of his frustrations.
New Zealand had just beaten Australia in the inaugural Chappell-Hadlee Trophy match at Melbourne's Docklands Stadium in December 2004 when Butler realised his pain was more than irritating.
He gritted through a couple of domestic games for Northern Districts while 'drugged up' before scans revealed a disc compression or in Butler's words: "Everything that could have gone with my back did go wrong."
Butler was warned his cricketing career was over, he disagreed and spent a couple of years trying to specialise as a batsman but his cricketing preference kept gnawing away.
"I didn't really enjoy it because I always wanted to bowl," he said.
One day ND captain James Marshall suggested he bowl a couple of 'death' overs off a shortened run-up.
Those gradual steps were encouraging so he carried on his rehabilitation in English league cricket.
Butler started bowling again at a reduced clip but with more variations in ND's 2006-07 campaign; two seasons later – and now relocated in Otago – he took 21 State Shield wickets at 22.57, figures that saw him included in the Twenty20 team to play Australia in February.
His ODI comeback against India followed and now Butler finds himself a reborn international cricketer at age 27 alongside fellow comeback kids Bond and Tuffey.
A year ago the thought of the three teaming up again was far-fetched, given Bond and Tuffey were fully fit but aligned to the rebel Indian Cricket League (ICL).
"People would have said we'd never be back – it just shows how hard the guys have worked," Butler said.
They were certainly on song at R Premadasa Stadium sharing four key batsmen as Sri Lanka lost their top order for 38 before Thilan Samaraweera, Angelo Mathews and Lasith Malinga engineered a 97-run victory.
"It's really good to get back together," said Butler.
"While we were all out injured we kept each other going."
The right armer said their friendship meant they could also critique each other's performances without fear of recrimination.
"When you're really tight as a bowling unit, you're not afraid to give honest criticism. If someone's not doing something you can say it because you're mates."
They will revisit their approach to Samaraweera and Mathews' match-turning partnership as they seek prevent India producing a similar stand in Friday's match at Premadasa.
A New Zealand defeat means they sit out Monday's final before boarding a plane to South Africa for the Champions Trophy.
"I think you always look back and see what you can improve on," Butler said.
"In one-day cricket the batsmen and wickets are so good if you're not accurate you'll go a long way."
Meanwhile, Butler doubts a Bond-style return to test cricket is realistic.
"You have to be able to bowl 20 overs and maybe another 20 the next. That's tough for anyone, never mind someone who gets stiff the next day," he said.
"It's probably out of the question but I've learnt how to manage the body and if I can keep improving I'm not writing it (a ninth test cap) off."
Butler felt he'd be down the pecking order behind incumbent test seamers Chris Martin, Iain O'Brien, Bond, Tuffey, Kyle Mills and Tim Southee.
"We've so many quality bowlers anyway," he said, happy with his current assignments.
"There's so much competition for places at the moment."