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If any luck is dished out on the county circuit in 2014, then Leicestershire CCC off-spinner Jigar Naik must be towards the front of that particular queue.
Naik suffered a serious ankle injury against Lancashire at Old Trafford in the early part of 2012, and it took an awful lot of hard work to get back into a position where he was at the peak of his powers once again.
But Naik managed it successfully, and after bowling on early season wickets, had picked up 26 first-class wickets in his first ten matches. Just as conditions got warmer and drier, when Naik would have come into his own, he picked up another serious setback.
Fielding off your own bowling has become a key part of one-day cricket and Naik dislocated a shoulder as he dived to stop a ball in the T20 game against Nottinghamshire Outlaws at Grace Road.
Naik immediately realised that his season was over, which is disappointing enough when you are in such good form. However, given it was his bowling shoulder, Naik knew there were also longer term implications.
It was going to take a lot more hard work to get back to delivering a cricket ball again but after a long period of recovery and rehabilitation, Naik has got back to that point. He hails the support of Club Physio Rob Leather and Club Doctor Harj Singh in getting him there.
He said: “I knew as soon as I fell that it was a bad one. I heard a massive click in my shoulder and after ten seconds I knew that it was out. It’s my bowling shoulder, so that’s the worst thing about it all. But we’ve worked with the best in the country to get back and I’m very confident I’ll get back to how I was.
“The rehab is going really well. As soon as I dislocated my shoulder, I got straight into thinking how I could get back. Rob has been my best friend for the last four or five months. Rob has been working hard every day with me, working on my soft tissue, getting my range of movement back and building my strength back.
“He built me a programme that was designed for steady progress, with the aim to be in a position to start bowling again with a cricket ball towards the end of November/early December. That is how it has panned out.
“There have been plans set out at every stage by Rob. Initially there was nothing much I could do other than range of movement activities, and then I started building some strength back into it. Then I started bowling with a tennis ball before slowly building towards bowling with a cricket ball, which was really exciting.
“Rob and Harj have been fantastic in helping me since I got the injury. The operation was done by one of the top surgeons in the UK, and I feel lucky to have had that. To start with, it was hard just to think of rolling my arm over with a tennis ball because I hadn’t done it for four or five months. Once I got over that, I was fine, and after about three or four balls, I felt my confidence coming back.
“When I was just about ready to start bowling a cricket ball again, the bowling programme was starting again at Grace Road. The ideal situation is that I’d like another 3-4 months where I can work on getting back to where I was at the start of the season, and that’s what I’ve got. So from a timing perspective, it has worked out so far.”
After dislocating his shoulder, it was a horrible sense of déjà vu for the spinner, given he faced similar experiences to when he picked up the ankle injury at Old Trafford. Naik was unable to drive, just as before. It was even worse this time as usual straightforward tasks like writing and sending emails on a phone became difficult without use of the right shoulder.
But Naik is always keen to draw on the positives and learn from experience, so rather than feel sorry for himself, he is looking at the ways in which he can make 2014 a great year. He is “delighted” to have signed a one-year extension to his contract at Grace Road and is absolutely raring to go already.
“It was a nightmare to start with because I couldn’t do everyday things like drive, but I was used to that after the ankle injury of last season,” he said. “The initial two months were pretty hard because it was during the cricket season and I was missing games. The injury was quite hard to take, particularly after starting so well, but I just had to get used to it. I have come back strongly in the past and I’m definitely going to do it again.
“I bowled on a lot of green wickets early on and picked up 26 wickets in ten games. I’m not sure of the exact stats but at the time, I think I was the leading wicket-taker with spin in the country. It was a bitter pill to swallow, because I knew I still had the drier pitches and the hotter climates to come. I felt, touchwood, that more wickets were going to come my way.
“I’m delighted that Leicestershire offered me a contract and I am looking forward to the 2014 season already. I want to take a lot of wickets and have success as a team at Leicestershire. We are all working hard to make sure we have a good season.
“Experiences like this can only make you stronger. I have always said to myself that if you come back stronger from these sort of life problems, then it is always going to make you a stronger character and a better cricketer as your time goes on. I took it on the chin as an experience and I’m looking to the future now.”
* In the second part of the interview, Jigar looks at the role of the modern-day spinner.