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‘Sacrifice’ paved way for Keshav Maharaj’s miraculous recovery from injury ahead of World Cup

‘Sacrifice’ paved way for Keshav Maharaj’s miraculous recovery from injury ahead of World Cup
Keshav Maharaj has been selected for the Proteas squad to face India following a lengthy injury period. (Photo: Alex Davidson/Getty Images)

Keshav Maharaj proved how important he is to the Proteas’ chances of success at the World Cup with his economic spells in the face of chaos against Australia.

When Keshav Maharaj suffered a “complete rupture” of his Achilles tendon in his left ankle while celebrating a wicket on 11 March this year, many immediately believed his Cricket World Cup aspirations were torn with it.

The injury left Maharaj in a moon boot and crutches for a few months. Walking unassisted was a challenge for the spin bowler, playing professional cricket in the near future seemed improbable.

But less than six months on from the rather innocuous-looking injury, the slow left-arm spin bowler was named as part of the 15-player cohort to represent South Africa in India in October.

It will be Maharaj’s first 50-over World Cup — Imran Tahir and Tabraiz Shamsi were selected as the preferred spin options in England in 2019.

“At the start of my journey — after surgery — the World Cup was a big [motivating factor] for me, having played in two T20 World Cups — I think 50 overs is very hard on the body,” the 33-year-old told the media on Thursday.

“That’s something that I want to experience. I always like challenging myself and I plotted the way back. But still, at three months and four months, I probably wouldn’t have said I would have gotten here, but with my medical team around me, we plotted a journey and they just gave me the best chance, which I’m very grateful for.

“After four months I sat down with [the medical team] and seeing that it  was very close to the World Cup, it meant everything to want to play.”

Maharaj’s lineage dates back to India, which provided the wily spinner with extra motivation to be physically ready for the showpiece event. 

“If you look at my forefathers, they are from India. So I do want to go back there and try to do something special for my country, that was the motivation that I needed,” he said.

Keshav Maharaj

Keshav Maharaj suffered an Achilles tendon rupture that left him out of action for several months. (Photo by Lee Warren/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

Finding form

Maharaj’s first international game back since his extended injury lay-off came in the third T20I against Australia — a series the Proteas lost 3-0 — where he was deposited for 40 runs in three overs. In fact, his first over back in international cricket went for an uncharacteristically high 20 runs.

In the two matches Maharaj has played since — the first and third One Day Internationals against the same opponents — the experienced spin bowler has quickly found his inch-perfect lines and lengths.

In the opening ODI, Maharaj conceded 38 runs in nine overs taking one wicket to finish as South Africa’s most economical bowler despite his side losing the match by three wickets.

In the third ODI, the spinner grabbed two wickets in 10 overs, bowling two maidens while conceding only 37 runs — the best bowling figures in either side — to help South Africa to a 111-run victory.

When asked how he had found bowling rhythm so quickly, Maharaj was perplexed himself.

“It’s hard to say. I think if you look at four months I was still in a moon boot and finding my way to walk about but I think I’ve put in the hard work behind closed doors in terms of my skill,” the spinner said.

“I’m just trying to bowl my best ball at all times and fortunately enough with a bit of assistance from the wicket, probably highlighted that even more.

“But I think the real test will be coming on [when] playing on wickets that don’t really offer too much assistance, then I’ll be able to see if I’m close to my best or not.”

Keshav Maharaj

Keshav Maharaj of the Proteas will play his first 50-over World Cup in October. (Photo: Charle Lombard/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

Role model

Maharaj is a leader within the Proteas setup and he saw his journey back to full-fitness as an opportunity to inspire other players to not give up when faced with a long-term injury setback.

“As a professional cricketer, you want to be a role model. So, any guys with injuries out there, long-term injuries, there is hope at the end of the tunnel,” he added.

But the trek from limping in a moon boot with crutches to bolting about on the cricket field came with sacrifices his family were forced into too.

“I just put my head down and did what I felt was right,” Maharaj said.

“I sacrificed a hell of a lot during that time from a diet point of view, from a rehab point of view, from a recovery point of view, making sure I’m getting eight to 10 hours of sleep every night, I was quite diligent.

“I put the family under pressure because in terms of diet, I only used to eat certain things. I had to make sure I ate on time. It was just about putting my head down and giving myself a chance.

“I might not have got there, I might have got there, but at the end of the day, it’s about giving yourself a chance to get back to a place where you feel you belong.”

And as he does so often, Maharaj got the breakthrough — with regards to recovery — at just the right moment.

Spin bowling is always going to be a factor in the subcontinent. For South Africa to have their premier spin bowler fit and bowling well again provides the team with a desired boost so close to the quadrennial tournament in India. DM

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