Worcestershire v Yorkshire: Sayers in emotional return to fold with Yorkshire

GOD willing, Joe Sayers will take the field for Yorkshire this morning for the first time since May 31 last year.

That in itself is a remarkable achievement.

Last summer, Sayers was diagnosed with Post Viral Fatigue Syndrome (PVFS).

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It is a condition linked with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) and ME.

At one point, Sayers was sleeping up to 15 hours a day and could barely walk up a flight of stairs.

In his darkest moments, he feared he might never play again.

But the courageous Sayers has defied the odds to battle back from a condition which affects around 250,000 people in the UK.

When he steps on the field at Worcester this morning, it will be an emotional experience for the opening batsman.

“It’s going to be a big moment for me,” said Sayers, whose return to health has been inspirational.

“There were some dark moments along the way when the medical experts told me there was a chance I might not make it back, so just to be playing again is an achievement really.

“When you go through something like that it gives you a greater sense of perspective, and I’m really looking forward to playing once more.

“The way I manage myself is going to be an ongoing process for some time, but all the symptoms of the illness have pretty much gone.”

It was on June 28 last summer – the opening day of the return Roses fixture at Old Trafford – that Sayers realised all was not well.

Feeling inexplicably lethargic, he had to pull out of the game and returned home for tests to ascertain the problem.

Sayers returned to play a handful of second team fixtures but it is only recently he has felt significantly better.

Under the careful guidance of Yorkshire’s coaching and support staff, he has gradually stepped up his training since the end of January.

“Since the first day of the Lancashire match last June it’s just been a case of small steps,” he said. “At first, that was as simple as getting out of bed. Then the next step was walking, jogging and building up from there.

“I rejoined the squad in late January/early February and that’s when I really started to build confidence.

“Prior to that, I didn’t really know how I’d react to doing more exercise, whether I’d relapse and pull up short.

“Touch wood, there have been no ill-effects and I feel in a really good place right now.

“It was good to get some miles in the legs on the pre-season tour of Barbados and just to get back on the field playing again.

“It’s taken a bit of time to get back into the routine of playing day-to-day cricket and the thought of trying to build an innings for a long period.

“Now I can’t wait for the season to start.”

Sayers’s return is particularly well-timed.

With Yorkshire having lost previous opening partner Jacques Rudolph, Sayers could play an important role in all forms of the game.

Although renowned for his ability to build tenacious innings in Championship cricket, Sayers is keen to play more one-day games.

He has played only 21 List A matches for Yorkshire since his debut in September 2003, scoring 444 runs at 23.36.

“It’s a big target of mine to play more one-day cricket this year,” added Sayers. “There’s an opportunity with Jacques having gone, and I’m stood firmly with my hand up ready to get the blue pads on.

“I’m confident that if I make a good start to the season in the Championship and prove my worth, the rest will follow.

“But without being too clichéd, it’s a case of looking to the Worcester match first and foremost and taking things from there.”

At 27, Sayers is one of the most experienced members of the Yorkshire squad.

His presence will be important not only at the top of the order, but also in terms of the advice he can give to captain Andrew Gale.

Yorkshire have not named a vice-captain for the season but Sayers has all the credentials to step up if Gale is absent.

“There’s a group of players around my age who might be seen as relatively young elsewhere, but who are in a position of responsibility here at Yorkshire,” he said.

“As a relatively senior player, I think I’ve got a responsibility to help shape the culture of the team and the future of the club.

“It’s important to offer advice and assistance as and when required. Everyone is encouraged to air their views.”

Despite Sayers’s absence last summer, Yorkshire defied most expectations by finishing third in the Championship.

But with Rudolph having ridden off into the sunset, taking with him the small matter of 2,500 runs in all competitions, it promises to be a tougher challenge this year.

“It was a nice place for the team to be in last year,” admitted Sayers. “We went into the season as almost total underdogs and it meant we could go in with a carefree approach and try to exceed expectations.

“This time it’s going to be a different challenge. Opposition teams will be better prepared, so we need to be realistic while retaining the ambition to challenge for trophies.

“I think we can do that, but we’re not naïve enough to think it’s going to be plain sailing because we had a successful season last year.

“It’s going to be hard work and we’ve got our feet firmly on the ground. We’ve got a lot of youthful energy and exuberance and that could carry us far.

“Everyone is improving and learning all the time.”