Two years ago, Sarel Erwee was on the verge of giving up the game, his mind not quite in the right frame. He had gone 30 innings without a first-class century and averaged 28.63. His cricket career was going nowhere and the ambition of donning the whites for South Africa looked a far cry. There was no reason not to quit. However, the support coming in from friends and family and sessions with a sports psychologist helped Erwee slay his mental demons and give it another shot.
Today, he became the first South African opener to score a century in a year, since Markram reached three figures in Pakistan. He shared the highest opening stand in 18 innings and helped the team stack up more runs in a single day than they did in the entire first Test. It was a phenomenal turnaround for both the team and the player, with Erwee managing only 10 runs on debut last week as the visitors sank to their second-worst defeat in Tests in the series opener at Christchurch.
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But how did the late-blooming southpaw make the journey from being on the brink of a hapless, premature retirement to realizing his long-cherished dream of representing the country? He scored tons in consecutive matches in early 2020 and doubled his average to 54.80 in the last two years. The promising exploits fetched him a call-up to the national squad for the home Tests against Sri Lanka, the tour of Pakistan, West Indies and the marquee assignment against India.
But despite Aiden Markram’s waning form, Erwee was consigned to carrying the refreshments. It was only when Keegan Petersen was exposed to Covid-19 and was ruled out of the trip to New Zealand and Markram was relegated to one-drop, that Erwee got his opportunity and two Tests in, he has announced himself at the big stage. That the 32-year-old was able to engineer a swing in his fortunes is testimony to his resilience, although it wouldn’t have been possible without the love and care of his loved ones who intervened to yank him out of the rabbit hole of self-doubt and despair.