This summer, Surrey all-rounder Zafar Ansari will be blogging exclusively for ecb.co.uk. In his first instalment, the spinner discusses the injury which cruelly ruined his England call-up over the winter, studying for his Masters, and returning to action with Surrey.
It has been an exciting week for me as I prepare for my first game of the season against Somerset at the Oval.
Seven months have now passed since a very eventful day in Manchester.
Before the second day’s play started in our Division Two game against Lancashire, I was interviewed about being included for the first time in the England squad for the Test series verses Pakistan. Only a few hours later, though, I was lying in an operating theatre, having my thumb repositioned after attempting (and failing) to take a difficult chance off Ashwell Prince at backward point.
In the subsequent months, I’ve received a lot of sympathy and commiserations for missing out on the chance to tour with England and then the England Lions, and these have been very welcome.
If I’m honest, however, the period between being selected and then being injured was so short that the reality of being picked in the first place hadn’t had time to sink in. On top of this, the severity of the injury was immediately clear, so it was never a case of feeling sorry for myself, or regretting what I had missed. I was presented with a great opportunity to spend six months doing other things away from cricket, while continuing to train hard to ensure I would be ready to play for Surrey as quickly as possible.
— The PCA (@PCA) April 14, 2016
In terms of the technicalities of the injuries, the brief summary is as follows. I’d had a problem in my thumb for a while. It kept getting reinjured – there was one occasion when I took a catch in a T20 game against Somerset last July when it swelled up and I had an x-ray, but there was no break, so we continued to manage it.
That was clearly no longer an option after the blow against Lancashire. In the top joint, I sustained a ‘fracture dislocation’, where the bone penetrates the skin – the sort of thing that looks gruesome when it happens to footballers’ ankles. In the following weeks, it emerged that I’d also badly damaged the ligaments in the bottom joint of my thumb, as well as fracturing it.
So there were three injuries in there. The hope was that once the dislocation had been dealt with, the other two would clear up, and I would possibly go away with the England Performance Programme and the Lions in the middle of November. But the extent of the ligament damage removed any chance of that, and it became clear that I would need a more serious operation.
I was under general anaesthetic for a couple of hours, the surgeon opened up my thumb, repaired the ligaments with various instruments – I remember the words ‘plug’, ‘pin’ and ‘screw’ being mentioned – and basically did what they had to do.
On the positive side, the injury allowed me to become something close to a full-time student again for a few months, as I spent time working on my Masters at Royal Holloway. I’ve been back in the library – mostly around University College London in Bloomsbury – doing a lot of reading, alongside plenty of film-watching, and I’ve even spent some time in court watching trials, and taking a closer interest in the legal world.
Cricket had to take a back seat before Christmas because of the thumb – I was restricted to various bits of gym work. I was back into the Oval more regularly after Christmas, though, and slowly started to build my training up again. The splint came off in early February, and I started to do ‘top-hand’ batting drills and bowl. Unfortunately, after three or four weeks the recovery had plateaued and so we decided to go ahead with a second, small operation to take the pin out of the thumb. That was early March, but given the limited scale of the intervention, I was back in training pretty much as soon as the stitches were out.
In terms of the bowling – an activity defined by vague words like ‘rhythm’ and ‘feel’ – it was a case of getting used to feeling the ball in the hand again, and then increasing the volume of balls I was bowling as quickly as possible. The batting was slightly different. The ‘back to batting’ programme was graded, as I transitioned slowly from tennis balls to wind balls to cricket balls.
Finally, last Wednesday, I had the chance to get back out to the middle, in a second team game against Sussex at their Blackstone Academy Ground.
Obviously there was some apprehension in relation to both the thumb and my performance, but overwhelmingly I was happy to be back out on the field.
Through the winter, there had been a period of time when it felt as if I wouldn’t be able to do this again, and that experience seemed to liberate me from the typical anxieties and challenges that come with the game of cricket.
I’ve batted three times now, and made some decent starts in each innings, so I’ve spent useful time at the crease. I also bowled 25 overs and took a couple of wickets in the Hampshire game, which was a small confidence boost.
I’d like to end this post by thanking the various people who have helped me through this injury. In particular, I am extremely grateful to the medical and coaching staff at Surrey CCC, and especially our physio Alex Tysoe. He has been by my side for countless mundane appointments, and provided me with wonderful guidance throughout the process. His hard work and dedication, along with that of many other people, deserve recognition.