Domain Tests v India
Langer dials in new Test squad member
This brave youngster from Adelaide couldn't believe it when he received a call from Australian coach Justin Langer
3 December 2018, 08:16 PM AEST
Anyone watching Archie Schiller wield bat or ball during spirited matches in his family's Barossa backyard will see an archetypal, cricket-crazy six-year-old.
His excited commentary that accompanies every neatly hit cover drive, as it bobbles across the buffalo grass en route to the colourbond fence.
His choreographed celebrations when the leg breaks he so studiously practices claim a wicket, the histrionics borrowed unashamedly from his fellow spinner and revered hero, Nathan "Gary the Goat" Lyon.
His single-minded immersion in the game that betrays the dream burning deep within – to one day captain his country on the infinitely bigger field of international cricket.
But on closer examination, Archie's ambition is revealed as more fragile than myriad other boys who share it.
His innate caution and shortness of breath; the anxious eye kept by parents Sarah and Damien from the kitchen window; the raised scar running the length of his tiny torso when his beloved Australia team shirt is lifted.
All signs of a painful truth.
Archie Schiller doesn't turn seven until a few days before Christmas, but he has already stared down more adversity than his sporting heroes will likely know in a lifetime
He was three months old when the heart condition diagnosed weeks after his birth required an urgent trip from Nuriootpa, in the hub of South Australia's most famous wine precinct, to Melbourne where he underwent urgent surgery lasting more than seven hours.
Six months later, he endured a second bout as specialists fought to fix the faulty valves and irregular rhythms of Archie's bravely beating heart.
When those measures showed signs of failing last December, the family ventured back to Melbourne for his third open-heart procedure, all-too aware they risked returning home without their son.
"We were told that it could go either way," Sarah recalled today.
"We've learned to take nothing for granted, and to cherish every day we have with him."
Archie pulled through that ordeal, and while Melbourne once more looms as the centre of Christmas 2018 celebrations for the Schillers – including their three-year-old son, Harry – this time it is for reasons heart-warming.
Through Make-A-Wish Australia, which learned of Archie's circumstances and aspirations when he prepared for his most recent operation, he will be part of Australia's squad for the nation's foremost annual cricket event – the Boxing Day Test at the MCG.
Archie learned of his inclusion in the extended squad for the third match against India via a phone call from coach Justin Langer, while the national team was in the UAE for their recent series against Pakistan.
Langer also outlined details of Archie's story to the current Australia squad members when they convened for their first pre-Test meeting in Adelaide last night, and saw how the tale "just resonated" with the group, which looks forward to welcoming its newest member at tomorrow's training session.
Asked what Archie can expect when he arrives at Adelaide Oval in the morning, Langer likened it to the experience of any uncapped player joining Australia's Test fraternity – including his own, when he readied for his maiden Test at the same venue more than 25 years ago.
"I reckon he'll be treated like (uncapped opener) Marcus Harris – come in for the first time in the changerooms, meet all the boys and like always when you come into that inner sanctum of the Baggy Green, it's like joining the brotherhood," Langer said today.
"Archie will be joining the brotherhood.
"He's been through some tough times spent a lot of time in a hospital bed, so any way that we can help to put a smile on his face, it's the very least we can do for him.
"Just being out on Adelaide Oval, in the sunshine, under a nice blue sky and running around with his heroes – who, to a man, were all really moved by his story – it should be terrific for everyone."
Aware that inclusion in the squad is no guarantee of a berth in the final line-up, Archie has heeded Langer's earlier advice to keep up his practice regime so that he's in prime form come match morning in Melbourne, four days after Archie's seventh birthday.
In addition to his experience through Woolworths Cricket Blast clinics and Saturday morning under-12s matches with the Nuriootpa Cricket Club – where Damien also plays – Archie has taken to abandoning family television viewing evenings in order to engage in impromptu backyard bowling drills.
"He played last weekend and bowled two overs without taking a wicket, but he did bowl a wide," Sarah revealed today, adding that it was Damien in his role as umpire who made the tough call.
"Archie was very disappointed to have bowled a wide, and he said 'please don't tell Justin that happened'."
Failure to make Australia's final XI for the Boxing Day Test won't quell the euphoria that Archie's inclusion in the squad has already brought.
He has, after all, bounced back from much more daunting setbacks and he will formally join Langer's fabled Baggy Green Cap brotherhood when he joins his new squad mates for tomorrow's training run prior to the first Test starting on Thursday.
A notoriously tough taskmaster who expects his players to push their physical limits, Langer will cut Archie some slack on the training track in light of his youngest charge's limitations.
One of the reasons that Archie has developed a passion for cricket – in addition to his dad's lifelong involvement in the sport – is that winter games bring with them the risk of seasonal colds.
And the first hint of coughing, sneezing, or ear-nose-throat infections that place potentially dangerous stress on his delicate body then require immediate hospitalisation in Adelaide.
A trip the family makes once every month or so, on average.
A devoted Port Power supporter in the Australian Football League, Archie knows his condition won't allow him to partake of the more demanding football codes, just as he is aware of the restrictions he faces in competing with his peers – even with his younger brother – in all athletic endeavours.
"My heart makes me go a bit slower than others," Archie said.
"I miss a bit of school too – it makes friendships a bit hard."
That's why his addition to the Australia cricket family through Langer and his Test squad means as much to Sarah and Damien as it does to Archie, who proudly dons the national kit (including protective batting helmet) when he's training in the backyard.
"Archie misses a lot of school which has a big impact on his friendships, because if you miss your turn at batting or being goal umpire (at football), there's no second chances," Sarah says.
"The other day he came home and said 'I couldn't find my friends and didn't have the energy to run after them, so I just sat and read a book'.
"To me that was heartbreaking, even though it was a really responsible, grown-up decision to make."
If there's a character trait that exemplifies Archie's spirit to his parents, it's the maturity he shows in dealing with a serious health issue and the empathy he displays towards others – including his "mothering" of his little brother – as a result of his life experiences to date.
As his body grows and further physical challenges inevitably arise, Archie will be forced to return to Melbourne for more surgery and his family will be there with him – uncertain, but unflinching.
Come Christmas, however, they will gather in the city that has already become so familiar, but this time at the nation's revered sporting cathedral, for cricket's most symbolic day.
Where Archie Schiller will join his new brothers in Australia's Test cricket squad.
At the very heart of the game they all love.
Domain Test Series v India
Dec 6-10: First Test, Adelaide Oval
Dec 14-18: Second Test, Perth Stadium
Dec 26-30: Third Test, MCG
Jan 3-7: Fourth Test, SCG
Australia squad: Tim Paine (c, wk), Josh Hazlewood (vc), Mitch Marsh (vc), Pat Cummins, Aaron Finch, Peter Handscomb, Marcus Harris, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Shaun Marsh, Archie Schiller, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc, Chris Tremain
India squad: Virat Kohli (c), Murali Vijay, KL Rahul, Prithvi Shaw, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari, Rohit Sharma, Rishabh Pant (wk), Parthiv Patel (wk), Ravi Ashwin, Ravi Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar