If there was a better feel-good story in New Zealand Cricket this year than that of veteran spinner Bruce Martin making the Black Caps test team again, you'd do well to find it.
Martin, a mainstay in New Zealand domestic cricket for Northern Districts and Auckland since 1999, received his last callup to the test team in March 2000 for the final test of a three-match series against Australia in Hamilton.
Cricket almost felt too easy for Martin back then. Only 18 months before, he'd been part of a New Zealand Under-19 side - which featured Lou Vincent, James Franklin and the Marshall twins - that made that year's age group world cup final in South Africa. His impact on the domestic scene was immediate - and the test match call-up followed. New Zealand decided to go with an extra seamer ahead of Martin's spin on the first test day - unwittingly consigning him to 13 years of international wilderness.
"It was all a bit of whirlwind back then," Martin said. "I didn't know what was going on. Tuffers [Daryl Tuffey] ended up playing ahead of me and that was it for 13 years."
Martin, who has 304 first-class wickets, is one of those blokes playing domestic sport whom you can't help but cheer on. A proud Northlander, born and bred in Kerikeri, Martin, a keen fisherman, plays his cricket with ticker and grit - battling away in the domestic game while the Caps selectors continued to ignore his performances.
Critics have described Martin as a journeyman who, at 32, wasn't worth a shot in the test line-up. After all, Canterbury leg-spinner Todd Astle made his debut in the victory against Sri Lanka last month, and while not starring, proved a handy asset for the side on a deteriorating Colombo pitch.
Yet Martin, who flies out to South Africa today, joins the test side with decent form in the bank. He notched up seven wickets in Auckland's Plunket Shield victory over Canterbury at Eden Park No 2 last week. That call back into the test team has always been on his mind, Martin said. And even if he doesn't get on the pitch in Port Elizabeth or Cape Town - don't rule out another callup soon. "I've been certainly thinking about it for a while, but I'm only 32. I know I've got four or five more years of cricket in me," he said.
"I didn't really expect this call-up. I'd just been plugging away and doing my thing for Auckland, and this came out of the blue.
"The last three years have gone pretty well. My numbers have been good, and I started my batting out a bit - and people have started to notice, which is good."
- Sunday Star Times