Those at Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed cricket stadium for Namibian fixtures at the T20 World Cup last month may have wondered if Gerhard Erasmus running half marathons across the length of the ground was a modern fitness protocol or simply a Steve Smith-esque way of penance for his batting returns.
There was more to it that met the eye and yet it was most unusual for a pre-match routine. As Erasmus revealed in a chat on the Emerging Cricket podcast, it was mandatory for him to inject his injured ring finger on the right hand with pain killers before every game for him to be able to take the field.
“If I had to bat before a game in the nets, I had to take an injection an hour and a half before the session and if it was before a game, I would take one 20 minutes before the start of play,” Erasmus recalls.
“It was comical because you would see me running all over Abu Dhabi stadium running from one end of the changing rooms to the other end where the medical centre was. Then I had to go back to put on my kit and head back to the other end to clean my hand. It was quite a frustrating experience.
“I waited for just the two years to play in the World Cup and then seven overs before in the World Cup warm-up game (against Scotland), I got a ball on my finger. It was a freak cricketing accident – the ball was thrown on the wrong side of the stumps and there was no backup. Unfortunately, I got hit straight on the finger. I immediately went off and knew that it didn’t look good. Got the news from the scan specialist that it was pretty smashed.”
The immediate prognosis wasn’t in his favour with the medical team’s advice to return home and have a surgery. That, however, wasn’t an option for the 26-year-old Namibian captain. His decision to play on wasn’t without an element of the unknown having to strip his batting technique heading into a showpiece event – the first of its kind for his country.
“It was a tough decision to make in those 48 hours whether I’m going to fly home and get an operation or if I’m going to take painkillers and play through the World Cup.
“On the one hand, you really wanna respect your body but on the other was the realisation that we were on an amazing journey as a team and as the captain, I had to inspire them and the country leading us at the World Cup.
“Individually, too, I wanted to participate in the World Cup so it was about weighing things up.
“I couldn’t train because you have to limit the amount of times you put your finger through that trauma and how much you use it too. I only trained twice – once before the first game against Sri Lanka in order to get a feel of how I’m gonna hold the bat, where my power’s gonna come from, a change of technique and what the gloves feel like.
“I had to adjust in a way where I felt I can play at a decent enough level on the field to still be able to take my team’s interests forward and not be in the way of the team’s performances. I had to be sure before that first game that I could operate at 80 or 90 per cent and as a package, be able to captain the team, bowl a few overs, catch the ball when it comes my way and bat.
“Just before the last game against India, I was in the doctor’s room and he was taking so long to get going so I said, “Dude, I’m playing against India you need to hurry up. What’s happening?” Eventually he got the syringes ready and he had a disinfectant that they put on before they inject you into your hand and he just stained my whole hand red. I was like, “Now I have to sing the national anthem with a blood-red hand on my left part of the chest. What’s this about?”’
All of which makes it hard to look past him to fittingly encapsulate Namibia’s sobriquet, the land of the brave, leading a young squad to unprecedented glory at the T20 World Cup.
There was something about the nuggety Namibian side that made one draw parallels with the New Zealand Blackcaps. For one, their achievements are often accompanied with a mention of how sparsely populated they are (only 2.5 million) and second, their routine victories or outstanding performances are often termed as them ‘punching above their weight’. The former a fact, the latter a lazy assumption. Namibia were no outliers at the World Cup with seminal wins against Ireland, the Netherlands and Scotland while also giving Pakistan a run for their money.
Erasmus’ men had the constant support of their families and a small troupe of traveling fans to thank but for Erasmus, there was help from South African quarters not too far away to feel most grateful for.
“I have so many people to thank for in me making that decision. The physio of the South African team, Craig Govender, was awesome in providing me some silicon strips I needed to field with. He also bought the glove casing, the protective part of the last two fingers on two of my bottom hand gloves. I have sent him countless messages but I still feel I need to provide him with a good braai in Namibia to thank him for what he has done for me.”
“It was really emotional. You can imagine waiting for such an opportunity and coming from the sort of background that we do in Associate cricket, the sacrifices you have to make and then to break the finger in a warm-up game. I really needed the support around me to know that I’m doing the right thing.”
On returning home, Erasmus underwent an operation and missed World Cup League 2 fixtures against Oman and UAE.
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