Broken beyond repair


Depending upon the extent, severity and impact of an injury sustained, rehabilitation and recovery to reach peak ‘playing fitness’ can take up to weeks, months and sometimes even years. When the recovery takes years there is also the danger of drawing curtains on the illustrious career of a sportsperson. An even worse scenario, of course, is when the injury turns out to be fatal — the unfortunate death of Australian batsman Phillip Hughes is still fresh in the minds of cricket lovers around the globe.

This month news of Ryan Harris bowing out of his cricket career due to a knee injury, which impacted his right tibia, after playing only 27 Test matches for Australia, was a shocker for many. In his relatively short career, Harris took 113 wickets. Although age was not on the 35-year-old’s side, still the expected recovery time streamlined his decision to say goodbye to his playing career just days before the start of the highly valued Ashes series in which he was supposed to play a major role while spearheading the Aussie attack.

Mark Boucher after being hit in the eye by the bail
Mark Boucher after being hit in the eye by the bail

Harris, however, is not the first one to end his career in this manner. There is also Craig Kieswetter. The English wicketkeeper and opening batsman in T20s and ODIs, who was instrumental in England’s claim to the ICC World Twenty20 championship in 2010, and declared the Man of the Match in the final game against Australia, broke his nose and damaged his eye socket while acing a bouncer in a match last year. He did play again after recovering to some extent but later announced his retirement from cricket as he claimed that his eyesight was causing him trouble on the field while also distracting him mentally.

Due to an injury, sometimes they are chopped from a forthcoming game and sometimes their career ends

Stress-related illnesses are also known to shorten playing careers. The left-handed opener Marcus Trescothick was hailed by many as a genius stroke player. He was instrumental in the famous 2005 Ashes win against Australia. But throughout 2006 and 2007 he returned from tours midway citing some reason or another. Later, he resigned from international cricket. In his book Coming Back to Me he accepted that he was undergoing anxiety attacks since childhood. He realised that touring other countries was drawing him away from his family so gave it up though continuing to play domestic county cricket.

Monica Seles being helped after the attack
Monica Seles being helped after the attack

Tennis star Monica Seles, the youngest-ever French Open champion at the age of 16 in 1990 and the winner of eight Grand Slam singles titles before the age of 20, also lost her spark due to stress after an on-court attack. Monica was stabbed in the back with a knife during a match in 1993 after which she took a two-year break. But her wound turned out to be more emotional that physical as even after her return to the court she failed to keep consistent form.

The fitness, agility and performance of the long standing and highly respected Proteas wicketkeeper Mark Boucher was never a cause for concern but his age and the speed of the ever changing game was posing unprecedented challenges for him. With the world record for highest number of dismissals in Test matches and second highest in ODIs, and a career spanning over 15 years, his announcement for retirement from international cricket was on the cards before an unfortunate event. When Imran Tahir dismissed Somerset batsman Gemaal Hussain, the bail struck Boucher’s left eye causing a serious injury. He underwent operations but suffered irreparable loss of vision in his left eye bringing an abrupt end to his illustrious career in 2012.

Craig Kieswetter after being hit by the bouncer that ended his career
Craig Kieswetter after being hit by the bouncer that ended his career

Mohammad Zahid was the first Pakistani bowler to claim 10 wickets in his debut Test against New Zealand in 1996. Called the fastest ever by Brian Lara who struggled against him, Zahid’s career was sadly short-lived. He hurt his back during the Sri Lankan tour in 1997 when he was last seen at his prime. Zahid bowled long spells in unfriendly conditions against medical advice which resulted in permanent damage to his back. After having recovered, he attempted returning to international cricket twice but his pace had dropped significantly.

Luc Nilis of Belgium, the most talented but unlucky footballer of the late 1990s, who scored goals at will and was signed by Villa to gain the respect of the greats in the game, broke his leg in two places after a collision with an Ipswich goalkeeper. He quit the game soon after.

Yet another story is that of Coventry defender David Busst in 1996, who suffered extensive compound fractures of the right tibia and fibula after an on-field collision. Considered as one of the worst soccer injuries of all time, Busst reportedly underwent 26 operations before he was able to walk out of the hospital; never to play again.

Ben Collett of Manchester United while being tackled during a match in 2003 broke his leg in two places. It ruled him out of a three-year contract with the club. Later, in 2008, he sued Gary Smith who tackled him and his club and received 4.5 million pounds in damages.

Ayrton Senna’s car after his fatal crash
Ayrton Senna’s car after his fatal crash

Talented centre forward for England and several football clubs Dean Ashton retired in 2009 after suffering an ankle injury during a training session. He failed to recover from the injury and announced his retirement.

Brazilian motor racing driver Ayrton Senna, who won three Formula One world championships, was killed in an accident while leading the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. Senna’s car crashed into a concrete barrier while he was leading in the race at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari in Italy. Ironically, just a day before another racing driver, Roland Ratzenberger had died when his car crashed during qualification for the race.

In Dec, 2013, another well-known racing driver, Michael Schumacher was involved in a skiing accident that has left him paralysed and in a wheelchair.

There is a list of rugby, wrestling, boxing, gymnastics, skiing, car racing and ice-hockey players, who suffered career ending injuries. Most of these injuries were lower limb fractures or post concussion syndrome following a blow to the head. Many have been unfortunate to even lose their lives this way.

The writer is a physician.

Twitter: @Ali_Shahid82

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine July 12th, 2015

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