Essex are hoping to have Graham Napier fit and firing for the start of the season after the all-rounder was forced to sit out the second half of last season with a back problem.
Now 31, Napier is expected to be a key player for the county as they seek to regain their Division One status in the Championship while also making another concerted effort to win one-day silverware.
Napier has been working hard through the winter on a recovery plan and is now in New Zealand where he is continuing his programme back to full fitness.
Second Eleven coach Chris Silverwood, who also doubles as the club’s bowling coach, said: “Graham has been out there for a few weeks and he’s been keeping us well informed about his progress. It’s all been good news so far.”
In the immediate few weeks following the injury, there were concerns that Napier might be forced to give up the game but those fears have now been hopefully dispelled.
“There are one or two little technical issues that we’ve needed to keep an eye on after his injury,” Silverwood added. “But when he left to go abroad he was looking strong again and was well on the way to a full recovery.
“We are all hoping that he will be fighting fit for us by the time he returns. He’s not going to be playing any cricket out there but will just be working on conditioning and fitness.”
Napier’s career has been halted temporarily on a number of occasions due to various injuries, leaving an undoubted talent somewhat unfulfilled although he is of course famous for the brilliant unbeaten 152 off 58 balls in a Twenty20 Cup match against Sussex in 2008 that included a world record 16 sixes.
That innings went a long way to securing Napier a two-year deal with the Mumbai Indians in the IPL although he found opportunities to play in the tournament extremely limited.
He has also played for the England Lions and, two years ago, was a member of England’s 15-man squad for the 2009 ICC World Twenty20 – although he was never given an opportunity to showcase his prowess in that form of the game.
Former England, Yorkshire and Middlesex fast bowler Silverwood believes that Napier has not had the best of fortunes with his fitness over the years. “I think he’s just had bad luck really,” said Silverwood.
“This is the first winter that I’ve worked with him but, believe me, he’s worked really hard and he’s done really well physically. He’s been pushed hard by Ant Sharp, our fitness coach, and I’ve been working with him on his bowling.
“But he’s also been motivating himself to do all that we’ve asked of him and that’s excellent. From what I’ve seen of him, he’s eager and keen to make a serious impression this year.”