South Africa Tour of Australia

How Harry became SA's accidental hero

Young keeper plucked from SA grade cricket takes four catches for touring Proteas

Andrew Ramsey at Adelaide Oval

23 October 2016, 06:58 PM AEST

Harry becomes an accidental international

From the time he received a pair of bright orange wicketkeeping gloves as a Kris Kringle Christmas gift from his childhood idol Adam Gilchrist, Harry Nielsen has dreamed of standing behind the stumps in an international game at Adelaide Oval.

Today, the 21-year-old son of former Australia coach and South Australia gloveman Tim Nielsen realised that ambition when he made his first appearance on that most famous turf.

Quick Single - CA XI v SA scorecard

Although neither he, nor his proud dad and mum Bronwyn, who were watching from the sun-soaked outer, could have imagined young Harry would be turning out for the other SA.

The star-laden touring South Africa Proteas.

Nielsen, whose handful of matches for the Redbacks’ Futures League team have not yet taken him to the hallowed surface where his father played so many of his 92 Sheffield Shield games, was keeping wicket for his Premier Cricket club Woodville yesterday afternoon when he received an urgent message.

South Africa’s Test wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock was suffering from a painful viral infection and, despite helping himself to a typically breezy hundred on day one of his team’s tour match against a CA XI at Adelaide Oval, had been deemed too unwell to field.

De Kock dominates CA XI with ton

And the reserve wicketkeeper in South Africa’s 16-man Test squad, Dane Vilas, has not yet boarded the plane to Australia as he is still gaining more useful practice in the domestic first-class competition at home.

Given de Kock was helping rebuild his team’s innings from a parlous 6-166 when that message was sent, there was a chance that the uncapped Nielsen might be needed as a stand-in gloveman before night fell.

Which, in turn, could have meant the young man’s biggest cricket moment since he filled in for a Cricket Australia XI against Virat Kohli’s touring India team two summers ago might arrive under floodlights, when playing for a Test-standard team.

Quick Single: CA XI v SA match report

Called on to keep against a fast bowling attack of Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada, Morne Morkel and Kyle Abbott armed with a shiny new pink ball which has been known to swing prodigiously during and after sunset.

It was an understandably nervous Nielsen who arrived at Adelaide Oval on Saturday evening having made a premature exit from his club duties.

Proteas steamroll CA XI for 103

And who was rather relieved when de Kock and JP Duminy rallied the innings and the Proteas bowlers were made to wait until the following afternoon to get their hands on the fluorescent pink Kookaburra.

If he was worried as to how he might be welcomed into a team that his father once coached against, and which takes a notoriously hard-nosed attitude into any sporting contest against Australia, it proved ill-founded.

He was the centre of attention during the Proteas’ traditional pre-game warm-up game (a soccer-volleyball hybrid) as his new teammates made him feel immediately and demonstrably part of the set-up.

Harry Nielsen in the centre of a South African huddle after one of his four catches // Getty
Harry Nielsen in the centre of a South African huddle after one of his four catches // Getty

And while there was no formal cap presentation given he’s not technically a South Africa player, he does have a lurid yellow Proteas training cap (standard headwear for a tour match) to add to his growing memorabilia collection.

With instructions from his dad to get his playing shirt signed by his new mates – including current Test skipper Faf du Plessis and his predecessor Hashim Amla, who fielded alongside Nielsen throughout the CA XI's brief innings and were regularly seen in conversation with him – before he returns to his Redbacks’ training routine this week.

With four tidy catches in South Africa colours – mostly regulation edges but the last a high, swirling top edge that he was forced to make considerable ground to snare – the accidental international made a significant contribution in esteemed company.

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Against opponents he is likely to see much more of in coming years than he will the men he played alongside today.

He also takes with him a swag of stories that he can recount during the second half of his grade match against Port Adelaide next Saturday.

Perhaps even better than his previous favourite yarn, which was being subjected to a bit of verbal hurry-up from Kohli as he compiled an unbeaten 43 from 40 balls batting at number 10 in his other tour match outing in 2014.

The sort of innings the left-hander has envisaged himself playing since following the inspiration of Gilchrist – and not in deference to his dad, who effected more than 300 dismissals in his eight-year first-class keeping career – to forge his own path as a gloveman.

A road that took a most unforeseen turn en route to today’s Adelaide Oval debut.

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