Imagine being a decade removed from your last appearance as a professional cricketer and attempting to make an international debut five days before turning 43, for your adopted homeland, in the cut-throat competition of the World Cricket League. Now imagine doing it just seven months after having your right hip replaced.
If you match the description above, your name is Shane Deitz. The former South Australia wicketkeeper-turned-player-coach for Vanuatu is not just attempting to take the team to its highest ever position in the 50-over cricket global rankings, but trying to be a medical marvel in the process.
"Everyone's been really supportive and really happy that I'm available to play again and give it another go," Deitz told ESPNcricinfo on the eve of WCL Division Four in Malaysia. "I didn't get a chance to play international cricket before so for me this is the greatest opportunity to play for my adopted country and a country I love and people I love.
"So I'm really proud to have this opportunity. I've gotten lots of support on Twitter, social media, Facebook, phone calls, texts. They're all looking at Vanuatu now and supporting them, from [former South Australia team-mates] Jason Gillespie to Damien Fleming, everyone back home is really supportive."
The dramatic debut is being made possible not just by modern surgical technology but by an amendment last year to the ICC's player eligibility guidelines. Previously, players had to be four-year residents to qualify as a non-citizen player, but that was reduced to three years in October. Coming a month after his right hip replacement surgery on September 23, all of a sudden the hamster started to sprint furiously on the wheels inside the minds of Deitz and the Vanuatu Cricket leadership.
"We didn't give it much thought until the ICC changed the qualification rules and then all of a sudden I was qualified," Deitz said, who first moved to Vanuatu in October 2014 to take the role of the side's coach and high performance manager. "You'd have to give it consideration and we weighed it up, 'Is it worth it? Can I improve the team?' I had to reach all the requirements set for every other player.
"After a few months it was looking promising, better than expected so we kept going with it. Then the performances in our trial games and internal practice games probably warranted that I'd help the team out. That's the main consideration is the team first and if I can help the team then it's a no-brainer really for us."
According to Vanuatu Cricket chief executive and tour manager Mark Stafford, Deitz was the leading scorer in the recent Vanuatu domestic competition. Perhaps not since Bo Jackson, the American dual-sport phenom who made a comeback in 1993 for baseball's Chicago White Sox after a serious hip injury and subsequent hip replacement surgery forced him to retire from playing American football in 1991, has an athlete made a comeback attempt in a similar manner to compete at a serious level as Deitz. A quarter of a century after Jackson's epic feat, Deitz says he's been able to complete the recovery process in six months thanks to the advancements in modern medicine.
"The surgeon was confident that I'd be right to go if I did the hard work and did what the physio told me to do. We're confident and I'm confident it'll happen. We'll just go game by game. If my form warrants selection, I'll keep going and if not, someone else gets a go. It's no real big issue for us. We'll give it a go and if it works out for us it could be a good story in the end."
Deitz said he initially incurred the problems in his right hip when he suffered a torn labrum towards the end of the 2007-08 season with South Australia, his final year for the state after a distinguished decade-long career scoring 3753 first-class runs at 30.76 including five centuries. He had planned on getting surgery to repair the injury, but his contract was not renewed for 2008-09. When he was offered a job to be an assistant coach with Wellington in New Zealand domestic cricket, he felt no pressing need from a competitive standpoint to go for the surgery.
But a few years later, the pain started to become increasingly bad. By May 2016, when the squad traveled to Jersey for WCL Division Five, Deitz was walking around with a pronounced limp. Two weeks after the end of the 2017 Division Five in South Africa, where Vanuatu gained promotion along with Jersey, he had the hip replacement surgery which he says has done far more to improve his lifestyle instead of limiting his mobility in any way and as a result he feels positive about his ability to cope with the demands of six matches in eight days at Division Four.
"It's a new lease of life really," Deitz said. "I've been struggling for about six to eight years with my hip. I feel like a new man, actually feel so much better than before. Everything feels much easier than before so that's why I'm probably real confident that there's no issues. I can run better, move better, no pain sleeping, walking, no pain doing anything.
"Wicketkeeping I thought would be the hardest part but that's probably the easiest part because most of the rehab was squats and legwork. The legs feel stronger than ever so I'm really looking forward to it. I think my body will hold up and we'll see how it goes. We might shock a few people and I put a couple performances on the board for the team. Anything can happen."
Vanuatu captain Andrew Mansale says the team is eager to have him in the squad as a player after having Deitz guide everyone as a coach for the last three years. In a team that has traditionally struggled to post competitive batting totals, Mansale hopes Deitz can make a difference not just with the gloves, but the bat too.
"To have him on our side, that's a big win for us," Mansale said. "To have him as a player and as a coach, with the heat and stuff, he's been working really hard and he's been showing us the last few months and weeks that he's up for this challenge. We're not going to try to put everything on his shoulders, but we're going to try to stay together with him, work around him as a player-coach to get through this tournament."
Deitz showcased his athleticism at Vanuatu's last training session on Saturday at Kinrara Oval before the start of the tournament, taking numerous spectacular diving catches with the gloves as part of a drill alongside the team's slip fielders. Even in the extreme heat and humidity of Kuala Lumpur, Deitz is not shying away from the physical rigors of wicketkeeping in addition to batting at the top order.
He's also mindful of how unfavorably some outsiders may view his selection in the context of an expat occupying a spot. Yet Deitz says Vanuatu's programs have consistently demonstrated their commitment to selecting local talent and does not believe his selection will spark a wave of ringers flying in.
"It's one of the things we're really proud of, that our development programs have always produced our players," Deitz said. "We've had one or two in the past, expats who have played.The majority of the team will always be from Vanuatu and we'll continue to do that. It's a very rare circumstance that this is happening. It's not like we're looking to recruit players or get players in and look for new players from around [other countries].
"This is probably a one-off. It may happen again in the future but you've got to compete with the teams in the world. England, they've always had players from overseas play for them so it happens at the highest level but the majority of our players our Ni-Vanuatu people and that's what we're really proud of and what we'll always stick to."
Deitz knows eyes will be keenly focused on him in Kuala Lumpur to see if he'll be able to hold up not just as a player with a surgically repaired hip, but one who turns 43 during the tournament. If the body can't hold up, he won't try to fight through it. At the same time, he's desperate to get Vanuatu to Division Three, where they would join USA, Oman, Kenya and Singapore.
"I've put in a lot of work over the last six months. It's gonna be tough but we'll just go," Deitz said. "If we keep winning and I'm still able to perform and the body is holding up, I'll keep going. Once the body gives up, like anyone else you'd have to consider giving other players an opportunity. You get a couple of players get off to a good start and you win the first couple of games, you can get on a roll.
"For the country and cricket, it's unbelievable. At this level, with our facilities and playing numbers we've got, to be at this tournament is a huge achievement. To go to another tournament with the likes of Kenya and USA, a big powerhouse particularly like Kenya who were World Cup semi-finalists at one stage, to a little nation like Vanuatu to be competing against a country like that would be a huge, huge achievement."