“So I decided to jump on poor Nathan Ellis’ back and then, unfortunately, landed on the concrete slab of Marvel.”
He flipped over the bowler’s back and the back of his head thumped into the turf, his bat flying off. Such was the force, Harper, now on his knees, immediately bent over, grabbing the back of his helmet. And no wonder. As commentator Andy Maher noted at the time of Marvel Stadium’s centre- wicket area, which sits atop a car park: “It’s a slab of concrete he has landed on, too. That’s a tough place to land. Helmet collides into the pitch.”
Harper knew in a split second he was in trouble when he didn’t quite have the leap he had hoped.
“It all happened so quickly. All you care about is making your ground and then another human is in front of you. Then your protective nature comes in and you think ‘I don’t want to run into him and I will try and jump over him’, which with me, that vertical leap was never going to happen,” he said.
“I ended up jumping on him. It was a bit of an unlucky coincidence that he was backing up and then went to rise with the ball backing up. The timing was quite unlucky, really. If I land any other way, I am fine.”
Harper had an initial stumble when he rose to his feet and had wanted to continue his innings. But that was never going to happen with veteran doctor Trefor James on hand and Cricket Australia’s concussion protocols to be followed. Harper walked from the field but it was when he made his way into the dressing room that things changed.
“Then a couple of minutes later, in the rooms, I don’t think I could even see out of one eye. So the right decision was definitely made,” he said.
“It’s almost like vertigo, you feel sick and get very dizzy and start seeing stars quite literally.”
The vision impairment lasted for several “moments” but it was enough for him to spend the night in hospital.
“It is a little bit scary. It can be a positive and a negative. The negative is that I have had it before, I sort of know how it’s going to feel and what it it’s going to feel like,” he said.
“I knew the next day when I woke up, this, obviously, was a bad one and I missed a couple of games. But I knew it wasn’t going to be like the Adelaide one [in 2017] – I wasn’t going to be in hospitals and rehab centres. I knew it was going to be a few symptoms for a couple of weeks and then back on the horse. That was a positive.”
He was back hitting cricket balls within 10 days and returned to action later in the summer for the Melbourne Cricket Club, where he is part of a famous family lineage, and in the Sheffield Shield for Victoria.
Harper, now preparing to play a key role for the Renegades in their season opener against the Perth Scorchers on Saturday night, has had up to eight concussions. This began while playing football for Yarra Valley Grammar – head knocks forced him to end his career as a, in Harper’s words, non-skilful inside midfielder” – and have continued through his cricketing journey.
The worst was in Adelaide when, as wicketkeeper, he was felled in another freak accident when South Australia’s Jake Lehmann inadvertently collected him in the helmet with his bat.
That left him in hospital in Adelaide for three weeks and in pain and unable to sleep properly for much of the time. He had to spend time in Melbourne at a rehabilitation clinic, where he even had to be encouraged to take his dog for a walk.
Harper and emerging Australian Test star Will Pucovski have been great mates since they were young lads hanging around the change rooms of Caulfield Park where their fathers were imposing cricketers. They share a love of runs but also a history of head knocks, Pucovski experiencing yet another concussion this week while batting for Australia A.
“He had the one really bad one with the ruckman at school at Brighton, taking him out [for the season]. And he had a similar one to my mine in Adelaide that affected him for a long time and he has had a few, I am not going to say minor, but lesser-extent ones, in the past,” Harper said.
“His have led to longer, more prolonged time out of the game than mine have. I have only had that one in Adelaide that made me miss a fair chunk of the season.”
Heading into the new BBL season, Harper has one wish.
“Hopefully, I can wrap the halo angel around my head for the next few years and, touch wood, there are no more incidents,” he said.
Jon Pierik is cricket writer for The Age. He also covers AFL and has won awards for his cricket and basketball writing.