<
>

Hampshire's plague of injuries gives Gareth Andrew a fresh start

Gareth Andrew in his Worcestershire days Getty Images

There is no good age for a professional cricketer to be told he will not be offered a new contract. But if there is a particularly worrying time for it to happen it is when you are just the wrong side of 30: too young to be thinking your career has run its natural course, yet too old to be the most attractive proposition to a new employer, especially once it has been noted that you have played only a handful of matches in your last two seasons.

This was the reality that confronted Gareth Andrew last August when Worcestershire, looking to create space in their staff roster to accommodate an influx of talented youngsters, identified their injury-bedevilled all-rounder as an obvious candidate to make way.

What was all the more galling for the county's 31-year-old one-time player of the year was that the back problem that had plagued him for three frustrating years had been finally resolved just days before he was given the news.

Eight years of service, 327 wickets, 23 fifties and one hundred - suddenly it was all over.

"I saw it coming," he admits. "My contract was up and as a senior player who was not playing the writing was on the wall. But it was still tough to leave. Worcester has become my home at the end of the day.

"It was a shame because after two years hoping my back would resolve I had an operation in the middle of last season and it cleared up the problem straight away.

"It was only a few days later that I was released. Yet I felt I had a lot to give back to the club."

By the time Andrew found himself ready to play again, comfortable for the first time in three years, it was not long before he discovered there was hardly a queue forming to take him on.

"Counties are looking for younger guys and I'm getting older," he said. "Plus they are always going to be a bit wary of someone who has had back problems, if they don't know the ins and outs.

"I have a personal friend who works as my agent and I've been in cricket long enough to have built up a lot of contacts. But the answers we were getting tended to be the same - counties have had to tighten their budgets and are looking to play younger guys."

Happily for Andrew, one county's misfortunes have created an opportunity for him. Although there are no assurances beyond the immediate future, he has found work with Hampshire, who remembered his approach during the winter and have turned to him to help them through an injury crisis.

"I'd started to concentrate on things away from cricket, renovating a house in Worcester and doing the next part of my marketing module. I've been playing for Ombersley in the Birmingham League," Andrew said.

"I'd been in contact with Hampshire through the winter but when they signed Tino Best I thought that door was closed.

"But then randomly, while I was organising the teas for Ombersley on a Friday afternoon for a Saturday game, I got a call from Giles White saying they needed me for a four-day game and would I be able to meet them at Old Trafford on the Saturday. I bit their hand off."

A little over two months later he has played 16 matches for Hampshire across all formats, contributing with bat or ball in all of them, and has the potential to continue his career, for which he thanks his partner for unceasing encouragement - "she gave me the drive and the kick up the backside when I needed it" - and friendly counties, such as Hampshire's latest opponents, Warwickshire.

"Warwickshire were fantastic," he said. "Dougie Brown is a great guy and I know Alan Richardson, too, as a team-mate at Worcestershire. They offered me the opportunity to train with them all winter. I had a couple of weeks at Derby too with Pop Welch and I had the pre-season with Warwickshire. They gave me the opportunity to get myself fit, so I will forever be in their debt.

"I'm not looking into the future at the moment. I'm on a monthly contract, playing game by game, just loving having the opportunity to be out there playing again.

"Hampshire have been really accommodating and looked after me really well. It has worked well for them too because they have been losing players left right and centre through injury.

"And even if I don't fit into Hampshire's plans in the long term, it gives me a better chance of finding another club. I'm only 32 and having not played a lot of cricket in the last couple of years I feel fresh. I reckon I have a few more years to give."

The injury, a stress fracture that first came to light during the 2013 season, restricted him to four first-class matches in 2014 and three in 2015, with five white-ball matches as a batsman only in 2014 but none at all in 2015.

"I played all the way through 2013 but missed the last couple of games, which is when I realised I had the injury," he said.

"I did the rehab through the winter and started 2014 really well but after four games I was in a serious amount of pain. It was then we realised the nature of the fracture was different.

"So I focussed on batting with the second team for the rest of that season and played a couple of T20s as a batter.

"When 2015 came along we were hoping it had healed naturally. But after the second game it was found there had been what they call a non-union, where the last half a millimetre had not healed. Under stress and workload, it flared up again.

"We tried injections to stimulate the bone to grow and heal but that didn't work either. The last chance was to have it screwed.

"I went to see a very good back specialist and the amazing thing is that I walked in one day, had the screw put in and walked out the next day healed, with no pain.

"In hindsight, had I had it done 18 months ago I would have missed no cricket, but that's just the nature of professional sport I suppose. You don't always know these things."