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Ervine puts his scarred hand up for Zimbabwe

Craig Ervine's maiden Test ton came at just the right time for his team AFP

Craig Ervine was 13 years old when he slipped on some stray penlight batteries at home. It would have been nothing more than a minor fall, but he was reaching up for something on a pelmet, and as he stuck his hand out to cushion the blow, went through a glass window. He cut through arteries, ligaments and nerves.

Nevermind whether he would be able to hold the bat his father Rory put into his hand as soon he could stand again, his family feared he would not even live.

"Luckily, mum was a nurse and she knew straight away what to do. He had about five minutes to live had they not stopped the bleeding," Sean Ervine, Craig's older brother, told ESPNcricinfo.

Extensive reconstructive surgery gave Ervine his hand back, the same hand that took him to his first Test century at Queens on Monday.

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The Ervine brothers, Sean, Craig and Ryan, were brought up on a farm outside Harare and boarded at a school three hours away, close to their grandparents. Their grandfather fed their love of cricket, paying 50 cents to anyone who took a wicket. He was not too concerned with run-scoring, but that was the discipline Craig excelled in. He rose through the ranks at school and played for Zimbabwe in the 2004 Under-19 World Cup, when the country's senior team was in turmoil. Sean was part of the white-player walkout that year. It was another six years before Craig would come into contention for national selection.

He made his ODI debut in May, 2010, against India, and scored an unbeaten 67 to put himself on the map immediately. Ervine was also drafted into the Test XI for Zimbabwe's comeback match in August 2011. But his early performances did not suggest he was stepping up for longer-term success.

In 2013, after Zimbabwe returned from their tour of the West Indies, Ervine refused a national contract and moved to Ireland on a passport obtained via his great-great-grandfather in a bid to qualify to play for their national team.

"With the situation that Zimbabwe is in at the minute, it makes it quite tough to go back there and play cricket with all the financial problems," he told the Belfast Telegraph at the time. "There were a few issues, so I felt coming over here was the best option."

Ervine played for Northern Knights in the European summer and went to Perth to play club cricket in Australia in the second half of the year. He sought to expose himself to different conditions while considering his cricketing future. Eighteen months later, in October 2014, Ervine returned to Zimbabwe.

"I am glad to be back. I have been away for a long time. I played in Ireland and Australia, and it was tough with lots of travelling," Ervine told NewsDay on his return. "I want to play for my nation again. It gives me an opportunity to play all three formats of the game and international cricket is more competitive. I had left because at that time, I couldn't make a living playing locally, and I think things are better off now."

Zimbabwe's financial situation has not improved markedly since then, but Ervine's form has. In 23 ODIs since, he has scored 719 runs at an average of 37.84, including his maiden international century, which came against New Zealand in Harare a year and six days ago.

Last week, in the first Test against New Zealand, he scored his maiden Test fifty in the second innings. He was unlucky not to be able to add to it when he was adjudged caught behind, although he had not made contact with the ball. This week, he doubled up, notching up his maiden Test century.

Ervine is not an overly emotional person in public, but given his relationship with his home country, there have been questions asked about his commitment to the cause. Ervine would never have been able to answer those with words; instead, he did it when he took off his helmet and kissed the Zimbabwe bird.

"Playing for our country is a huge passion, it's the ultimate goal and Test cricket is the ultimate game," he said afterwards. "To be able to get a Test hundred against an attack like New Zealand, I can't ask for anything more."

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For a man who suffered such a horrific hand injury, it is poignant that Ervine's strength is against spin. Almost half - 57 - of his 115 runs were scored off Mitchell Santner and Ish Sodhi. His ability to score off his pads, to sweep and smother turn and read deliveries was the less appreciated but most important part of an innings that thrilled for the boundaries he took off New Zealand's quicks and fascinated by his willingness to grind.

Ervine also had the advantage of a solid partner. PJ Moor, despite being on debut, took over as aggressor and let Ervine anchor. Between them, they batted in a zone that seemed to shut out the mountain New Zealand had laid in front of them. Like protestors in myriad movements, the duo got on with the job of occupying and then thinking of action.

"The easiest thing is to try and break it down into small blocks - bat five-over blocks, bat for an hour, bat a session. Mentally, if you think about such a big total, it's daunting to get there when you haven't yet scored a run," Ervine said. "And then, it's knowing where your scoring options are and trying to be patient and wait for the ball to be in your area. If it is not, you have to wait it out."

Ervine, who faced 27 dot balls in the nineties, was patient enough not to get frustrated when the runs dried up and shrewd enough to turn the strike over when the opportunity presented itself. He wanted the hundred so badly, he was willing to wait for it, no matter how long it took. "This is up there with the most exhausting things I've done on a cricket field, but it has always been a dream of mine. I am ecstatic about the hundred."

But not so ecstatic that he has forgotten that there is a Test to save. Zimbabwe still need to avoid the follow-on and then take more time out of the game to rob New Zealand of the chance to bowl them out twice. Ervine seems ready to dig in, and his hand does, too.