Johannesburg: Along with important case files and ready-to-use office stationery, a Team India T-shirt — with several famous signatures on it — holds pride of place on Dr Mark Ferguson’s desk. But the noted orthopaedic surgeon isn’t your average cricket fan. For more than a decade, he has operated on several high-profile shoulders in the Indian dressing-room, and the tee is one of the tokens of appreciation that he has received from his famous patients over the years.
Injured paceman Zaheer Khan, who has been undergoing post-surgery rehabilitation at Dr Ferguson’s Sports Medicine Orthopaedic Centre for 10 weeks now, is responsible for adding that piece of memorabilia to the surgeon’s collection. A jacket presented by Javagal Srinath, the first of the Indian cricketers to consult him in 1997, is also close to his heart.
Apart from Zaheer and Srinath, other Indian cricketers on Ferguson’s list of patients are Sachin Tendulkar, Anil Kumble, Rahul Dravid, Ajit Agarkar and Ajay Jadeja. The doctor says he’s forged a strong bond with the players over the years, but adds that working on prolonging their careers has robbed him of the fun of watching the game.
“It’s incredibly frightening to see them on the field. You don’t know when a player is going to break down, and I have my fingers crossed every time they dive. Actually, most of the time I prefer to stay away from Indian reporters. If something goes wrong, you will point fingers at me,” he says with a laugh.
Ferguson’s tryst with Team India started after Srinath suffered a shoulder injury during a tour of South Africa 12 years ago. The surgery was postponed but later that year the bowler could no longer take the pain. “He called me from the West Indies and I suggested that he should go to a colleague in Texas who was said to be the best in the world. But Srinath insisted that he wanted me to do the surgery and he came to South Africa again,” says Ferguson.
Srinath’s successful recovery started a trend that had the doctor receiving frequent SOS messages from the Indian camp.
Ferguson says his second case — Anil Kumble’s shoulder injury — was the most difficult to treat. He explains Kumble’s problem with a light-hearted reference to his friend Srinath: “I hope Srinath doesn’t read this, but with fast bowlers there is a bit of allowance for a lack of control. They can let one go at times, but Anil was an absolute perfectionist. There were variations with flight and speed, and for that the shoulder had to be in perfect shape.”
Ferguson recalls how, during a rehab session at the nets at the Wanderers, Kumble had complained that the fizz in his bowling was missing post-surgery. “That’s where mental strength comes in. He worked hard and took a whole lot of wickets after that.”
Sports Medicine Orthopaedic Centre, where Ferguson works, has a unique rehabilitation process in which patients aren’t confined in a room. Interactions with therapists and the biokinetics are conducted in the open, where an Indian cricketer might find a Springboks rugby player next to him. “They see the recovery of other patients and the general positive atmosphere is very vital,” says Ferguson.
Having studied so many Indian cricketers closely, Ferguson says he finds Tendulkar different from the others. “He is incredibly professional. He wants all the information about his condition and the treatment down to the last detail. He came to me again during this IPL, and I tell you this guy is a little different. He’s got a focus that is different. He looks a bit aloof, but his focus is only on what’s on his mind at that time.”
Ferguson has treated some of the finest sportsmen of our times — top South African rugby players often give him distress calls — but he can’t recall even the name of the Tottenham Hotspur player who consulted him a week ago. But somehow, India’s cricketers are special to him. And the T-shirt displayed on his desk is testimony to that.