When Graham Napier sustained a back injury at the beginning of June 2010, in a game against Hampshire, the severity of the Essex all-rounder’s problem was not fully apparent.
That quickly changed when it was revealed that he would miss the remainder of the season and, as time progressed, there was speculation that the 31-year-old could even be forced to retire.
Napier, however, refused to admit defeat and after months of arduous physiotherapy and long hours in the gym he was able to join his county colleagues on their pre-season tour to Barbados.
The start of the Clydesdale Bank 40 campaign has now offered the Colchester-born Napier his chance to return to the Essex first team and it did not take him long to announce his well-being.
The mere mention that Sky Sports are covering a match appears to spur Napier into headline performances. He became a household name in 2008 when he plundered an unbeaten 152 not out from just 58 balls with 16 sixes against Sussex in front of the Sky cameras in a Twenty20 Cup match at Chelmsford, and his latest tour de force for television viewers came at Cardiff’s Swalec Stadium on May 6 when he took a hat-trick against Glamorgan.
“It makes those long 11 months I had out of the game and all the work that I put in during the winter even more worthwhile,” he said. “I missed out on three-quarters of the season last year and that meant I missed the opportunity to play first division County Championship cricket, which I was really looking forward to.
“Mentally it was hard during such a long time out of action, and there were low points when I wondered if I would get back out on the field again. But you play mind games with yourself in an effort to keep yourself motivated.
“Part of that motivation was telling myself that, if I did get back playing, then I would enjoy every single moment – although there were times when I wondered if I would get the opportunity to play again.
“I’m determined now to enjoy every moment of my cricket and taking the hat-trick certainly added to the pleasure of playing. Things have been coming along nicely, I’ve been finding my form and getting back into the first team has been great for me.
“To take a hat-trick is something you don’t do very often, so I’m absolutely delighted. I also took one recently in a second team game so it’s been a bit of a memorable start to the summer.
“Every minute out there playing is something for me to savour and enjoy. Hopefully, whenever I get the opportunity, I’ll continue to make the most of it.”
Napier is being eased back into contention for a place in Essex’s four-day side and he is hoping that his all-round attributes will put him ahead of a number of other candidates for the pace bowling places.
“My all-round package can be utilised in other ways,” he added. “My batting is always a bonus in county cricket when, coming in at eight or nine, I can make the tail wag a bit or farm the strike if I have to. Maybe I’ll not bowl with the new ball so much these days but coming in with short sharp blasts suits me down to the ground.”
Timely reminders figure high on the Napier agenda, so did recording a hat-trick in front of Alastair Cook, the newly-appointed England one-day captain, serve up some food for thought with regards to his own international prospects?
“I shouldn’t think so,” smiled Napier. “I think I’m a long way from that but you never know. Nothing surprises me too much about this game. Realistically, it’s not going to happen and, at this stage of my career, all I want to do is to enjoy my cricket again and stay free from injury.”