It’s been an eventful 10 months for Jason Behrendorff. In his own words, the star left-arm quick reveals all to emageogroup.com, from his World Cup heroics to the five years of pain that have led to back surgery, and his excitement about the future.
Written by Jason Behrendorff
As I sit here about to fly out to New Zealand for back surgery, I’m strangely excited about what lies ahead. The troubles with my back have been well documented and I’m not going to lie that there have been times when I have been in constant pain that I have thought ‘is it all worth it?’ Reflecting on what has taken place over the last 10 months, the answer I keep coming back to is ‘yes!’, and I thought I would share a few of the reasons why …
A dream come true
Last summer I had been playing throughout the Big Bash and was picked in the ODI squad for the series against India in January, which was something that I’d dreamt about as a kid. I think I found out the day before that I was actually playing in the first game. Being in Sydney, it meant my family could be there. My wife Juvelle and son Harrison flew over for it as well, so it was really a very special day. To have my ODI cap presented by a childhood hero in Glenn McGrath was something else so the whole day was amazing.
Once I got into that one-day squad, and went on the Tour of India and the Pakistan Tour, it gave me a lot of confidence, knowing that the World Cup wasn’t too far away. I still thought at the time that selection was announced that I was maybe 50-50 to get picked because there were a few guys coming back from injury.
I thought at least I had given myself the best chance to be picked.
That phone call
I was over in the IPL playing for Mumbai and I was in my hotel room. Trevor Hohns called me and said: ‘I’ve got some good news and some bad news’. I said: ‘All right, start with the good news’. So he told me I was in the World Cup squad. I had to try and pick my jaw up off the floor. I don’t think I could believe it. And then he said: ‘Unfortunately, you’ve missed out on a Cricket Australia contract’. At the time, and even now looking back at it, that didn’t matter at all. I’d been picked in a World Cup squad and that’s not something that comes around all that often or that many people get to do.
Heading to the UK
I had a couple more weeks in the IPL and then I quickly ducked home to Perth for 48 hours just to say hello and swap my bags over and then we went over to Brisbane for a week-long training camp.
On the way to England we stopped by Gallipoli.
We were fortunate to be out on a boat at sunrise one morning looking into ANZAC Cove. We saw the enormity of what the ANZACs were faced with all those years ago. We got to scale the peaks there and look through all the terrain and get a feel for what they were dealing with. We were just walking through it, but they were trying to get through without being shot. It is remarkable what they did and what they had to endure. Those experiences left me quite speechless. That was a very humbling few days and although away from cricket, is one of my favourite memories of the whole tour.
Getting my chance
I was picked to play against Sri Lanka at the Oval. I didn’t open the bowling and I came on after Starcy. I was really happy with my first over. Then my next two overs I ended up going for plenty. I was at fine leg after my first three overs in a World Cup and I’m sitting there 0-30 or something like that and I’m just thinking in my head: ‘Well, that hasn’t quite gone the way I would have liked it to’, and the crowd was certainly letting me know as well. I was thinking I still had seven overs to make a difference. I was always still in the game and making sure I was keeping my body language up. I ended up picking up a wicket in the middle. I left the game feeling I might not have had the best start but felt like I clawed it back and had a respectable World Cup debut.
A day I’ll never forget
I found out during the team meeting the day before that I was going to play against England at Lord’s and I was going to open the bowling with Starcy. I had only been to Lord’s a couple of days before for the first time actually seeing the ground. To walk in on match day and walk up through the stairs and place my gear down in the change rooms and get ready for a World Cup game against England, realistically that’s probably one of the biggest games I’d ever played in before that moment. The atmosphere was pretty electric. Standing at the top of my mark ready to let the first ball go was really exciting. The second ball was the ball that, as a left-armer, I try to bowl nine times out of 10 and all the hard work that I’ve done, everything that I’ve done up to that point to try and get that delivery as well executed as I possibly can – that was just about the perfect ball. Initially, when I let it go, I thought: ‘That’s too full’. And then it swung late and went through the gate and clean bowled James Vince. That’s a ball I will remember forever. The rest of the day is a bit of a blur. I bowled at both ends and ended up picking up another four wickets.
Finchy was amazing. He let me walk off the ground first. I said: ‘No, don’t be silly mate, you walk off first’. He was like: ‘No, you’ve just taken a 5-fa at Lord’s, get off first’.
The most special thing for me in that whole scenario was that my family was there. I was able to share that with them. I think the enormity of it might potentially hit me at some stage in the future when friends or family or maybe even my son walks through the change rooms at Lord’s and sees my name up there. I’ve always wanted to play cricket for Australia and do well for Australia. To do that meant the world to me.
Cigars and slippers
JL (Justin Langer) gave me a big hug. I can’t actually remember what he said. It would have been something along the lines of: ‘I’m so proud of you buddy and I’m so happy for you’. Another thing that JL always says to me and has said for years, especially around the Scorchers stuff, is cigars and slippers. He’d say: ‘I want you to take these couple of wickets up front for me, or if you can get two wickets in the first 10 you can have your cigars and slippers and just come off and sit down’. So that’s something that we’ve had a little running joke for a while. Most of the time before games he just comes up to me and says: ‘Cigars and slippers, mate.’
We fell three days short of our goal to win the World Cup
The hardest thing to take in that whole scenario was that we knew we were good enough to win the World Cup, we just had a pretty bad day in the semi-final. It was a bitter pill to swallow to lose a semi-final so badly, knowing we had the potential to go all the way.
I only had maybe two weeks or so off and then started bowling again, knowing the kind of summer and international opportunities that were coming up. Everything was going quite nicely and then I got a phone call from my manager saying I had an opportunity to go and play some T20s for Sussex in the Vitality Blast in the UK. I thought: ‘How good is this? This is a great opportunity. I’ve been playing a lot of cricket and I feel good’. I jumped on a plane within about 48 hours.
I was there and ready to play and then a couple of overs into the first game out of nowhere I felt unexpected soreness in my lower back. I spoke to the physios and got some treatment over the next day or so. I wasn’t right for the next game and then went onto Cardiff and was still quite sore but thought maybe I should push through it, a decision I have often had to make over the years. I played that game with it still not being quite right. I got back to Hove and was getting ready for the next game and I was really sore off about two or three steps, so I pulled the pin. It was at a point where I wasn’t really able to bowl so disappointingly I ended up coming home early and getting it checked out.
It had started to knit back together
I was trying to bowl through a stress fracture that’s actively trying to heal, which is quite painful. We tried a few things when I got back. We tried some rest, tried a cortisone injection to settle the joints down around there, tried everything that we could and initially after a bit of rest it was OK. Everything was feeling really good, I was able to move quite well in the field. Then I went to bowl in the nets and it wasn’t right. Off about half a run I was quite sore. Then I pushed it back to my full run to give it a proper crack. I bowled about an over or two. Chatting to D’Arcy (Short) and Flip (Josh Philippe) after the session, they said: ‘Are you OK? It doesn’t feel like it’s coming out with the same pace or intensity’. It was a hard session. I felt like I was bowling backwards at times and couldn’t do what I needed to do. We gave it another few days to try and recover a little. I tried to bowl again and this time I probably only got off a three-quarter run. I knew it wasn’t right so that’s when we started investigating other options to figure out how can we fix this.
It’s been five years
I’ve been dealing with the same problem with my L4 vertebrae to varying degrees since about 2014. Whether it’s been a full-blown stress fracture that I have a lot of pain with and can’t bowl, or the constant management and pain I’ve played with on a regular basis.
Some days you wake up feeling OK. Then other days you wake up and it’s actually a struggle to get out of bed. It’s a really tough thing to deal with. It involves just about everything that you need to do in life.
I played through when my back was really sore in the Big Bash in 2015-16. Apart from the team and the medical staff, no one really knew what I was dealing with and how sore I was. That was quite tough for me to put on a bit of a mask at times to tell everyone I was fine, when I was really struggling. I wasn’t able to train, I wasn’t able to do really anything else apart from trying to play the games. Looking back at it now, that was no way to play, no way to live really.
I was given the last round game off to try and get a bit better and I remember we flew to Melbourne for the semi-final against the Stars and I had a light bowl in the nets, just to try and see how it was feeling. That first ball I bowled in the nets, it was literally like someone stabbed me in the back and I just remember thinking: ‘This is going to be the longest four overs I’m ever going to have to bowl in my life’. That was a really tough season and really tough game. Not just the physical toll, but the mental toll – trying to deal with it all but also trying to keep it under wraps.
A big decision
To take on surgery is not a decision that I’ve jumped into lightly and it’s not a decision that I’ve made spur of the moment either. It’s been considered, knowing the history of my back and knowing what other guys have had done in the surgical space like James Pattinson and Ben Dwarshuis, more recently. I feel like all the cases who have had it done before me have come back and played their respective level of cricket that they were at as well, if not better. They feel they were able to bowl and move with a lot less restriction than what they’d been putting up with.
I actually said to Juvelle: ‘After such a big decision to go and have surgery, is it weird that I’m so OK with it?’. She said: ‘Yeah, because it’s something that you have considered as a potential option for a while now, it’s not a new idea and it’s time to try a different path’. We’ve done everything that we can naturally to give me the best chance of playing. We’ve taken the rehab time off and my back has healed and that’s been good. We’ve made little action modifications. And then we ended up in the same spot again and that’s happened over and over. Then we made a huge decision to reduce the formats, so I only play white ball cricket. Again, that’s been really positive, it gave me 12 months, as opposed to six months, but unfortunately I’ve ended up in the same position again.
My understanding is that I’ll go in and it’s about an hour and a half or a two-hour process under general anaesthetic. They’ll make a small incision in my spine where the L4 vertebrae are and they’ll also take a bone graft out of my hip. They’ll put the bone graft out of my hip into the fracture in my back. They’ll put some screws either side of my spine and then they’ll wrap it with wire to really hold the structure solid. It’s as simple as that. It’s not super invasive back surgery. From the research I’ve seen, they are using as minimal as possible but enough to make sure it is structurally sound.
The really positive thing is that the Surgeon, Rowan Schouten, said my case is one that is a very likely to have a good outcome from this surgery.
I’ll be in Christchurch for about 10 days – a day or two beforehand to meet with him and then roughly a week post op before I’m allowed to fly. I’m not looking forward to flying home. The guys who have had it done have said it’s not much fun. But that’s just something we’ve got to do.
Juvelle is an amazing support. As soon as we were considering surgery, she said it doesn’t matter what she’s got on, she’ll be there. That’s really comforting and I’m really lucky to have such a great support network.
I could be back playing quicker than I thought
I’ve got a very open mind. It seems like a pretty common time frame to return to playing is around six months. That’s what Ben Dwarshuis is experiencing at the moment. Initially I thought it could be quite a lot longer than that but if everything goes to plan, we could hopefully be aiming for around that six-month mark, which would be exciting.
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Harrison’s face says it all 😂 Unfortunately yesterday didn’t turn out the way we would have liked. What an unbelievable experience though! Fortunate to be part of a great group & special to have my family there to share it with as well! Thanks to everyone for all the support 🏏🇦🇺
There have been times when I haven’t been able to pick up Harrison. That’s been really hard. There’s more to life than just cricket. Going forward I’m really hoping that my back is a lot better for life in general and life after cricket. In the short-term it’s about cricket, but in the long-term it’s hopefully about quality of life and that I’ll have a more robust and stronger back to keep me going well through life.
It’s never easy not playing cricket. Unfortunately I’ll miss the whole domestic and international summer. That’s a hard thing to take but the positive outlook on everything going forward is a really exciting one for me and I’m really looking forward to being able to have a back that will allow me to play lots of cricket.
It would have been easy enough to give the game away. And I think if I didn’t love the game this much then I probably would have done that. I actually remember lying in my bed in Sussex and I was literally thinking: ‘Is this all worth it? Do I want to do rehab again?’
The thing I kept coming back to was: ‘Yes, I want this, and I know I’m not done yet. I know I’ll do whatever it takes to get back’. The exciting thing is that hopefully my best years are still to come with a back that is ready to go and allowing me to bowl fast and do what I like to do.
I’ll see you for cigars and slippers soon!