More than most on a cricket field, wicketkeepers can be prone to injury, especially when it comes to their hands. In 2007, one amateur player was reported to have broken all ten digits during his career behind the stumps.
It’s a problem that Lewis McManus now knows all too well, having had his 2017 season cut short due to a broken finger suffered against Lancashire in August.
But Hampshire’s gloveman isn’t letting it get him down and, having fully recovered, he’s ready to get back to doing what he loves.
“Throughout your career you’re always given little hurdles and that’s the way that I’ve looked at it,” McManus says.
“It’s not ideal but those things are out of your control as a player and they’re things that you’ve got to go through unfortunately and hopefully come out the other side stronger and better for it.
“I never stopped enjoying playing cricket. That time away was very frustrating but you’ve got to take the positives and reflect on the season that I had and areas that I could improve for this season. I’m just hungrier than ever to get back out there.”
A breakthrough 2016 saw McManus take the gloves from the then-incumbent Adam Wheater, eventually forcing Wheater to return to his roots at Essex.
His maiden century against Surrey was the highlight of a successful season but he didn’t reach those same heights last year, scoring just 323 first-class runs – 170 fewer than 2016.
McManus is a candid, level-headed 23-year-old and recognises that his campaign fell short of what he would have hoped for, even before the injury.
He reflects: “There were certain games where I performed pretty well and other games not as well as I would have liked, but I guess those are the little challenges that are given to you as a sportsman and it’s a test of your character more than anything.
“And I’d like to think that I’m a quite mentally strong player. I feel like I’ve come out the other side for it better. Those are just experiences that you can refer back to in the future when times get tough.”
His absence in the final weeks of 2017 saw Calvin Dickinson and Tom Alsop – who is often selected as a batsman – take up the gloves, but neither did enough to break the door down and cement a permanent spot.
Dickinson, in particular, will be hungry for more time in the first team but the perpetually ambitious McManus doesn’t need the pressure to aim higher.
“I’ve always wanted to push myself every day in training so it’ll be no different for me. Working hard each and every day in games and in training is something that I want to carry on doing in order to do well.”
Crucial to his continued development will be the wisdom garnered from Hashim Amla, the club’s overseas signing for the first three months of the season, with McManus expecting the South African to be just as big an influence as previous overseas signings.
“A big part of an overseas signing is not only the class that they show on the field but how they can rub off on the younger players.
“The overseas signings we’ve had when I’ve been at the club have always been willing to help younger players, but that’ll be no different with Amla and the likes of [Kyle] Abbott and [Rilee] Rossouw who we’ve had this year and last year.
“It’s important to the whole team to learn off each other and have a conversation which is something we’re very good at.”
Hampshire kick off their Specsavers County Championship season on Friday, hosting Division Two champions Worcestershire. Amla is expected to open the batting but McManus says he is more than willing to do so if asked.
The wicketkeeper missed the final four Championship matches last season that saw his side battle relegation – which he describes as “deflating” and “a horrible situation” – only ensuring survival on the final day against Warwickshire thanks to a gritty two-and-a-half hour 30 from James Vince.
That followed a Natwest T20 Blast semi-final defeat to eventual champions Nottinghamshire and a group stage exit in the Royal London One-Day Cup, and McManus knows the team need to push on and challenge in all three formats.
“Our white-ball record’s been very good over the last five to ten years or so,” he said. “We’re not just going to sit still on that, we’re going to look to improve in that aspect.
“[In] four-day cricket, we’ve been building quite a young side and I think those young players will play a big part alongside the world class signings that we have made. Hopefully we can all pull together to really push for a trophy in all three formats.
“We’ll obviously be looking to win a lot more games this season but if teams get on top of us at any given moment, we’ll have to use that [near-relegation] experience to really dig in and look after our lose column.
“[I’m] feeling in good shape and, despite the weather, as a team we’ve had some good practice and I think the lads are raring to go.”