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Harry Nielsen on keeping positive and taking chances

29 December 2021

It was a moment that took little more than a single tick of the clock, but Harry Nielsen’s stunning catch at Adelaide Oval during the Strikers triumph over Melbourne Renegades was built on a foundation formed through years of hard work and dedication.

With the Strikers in a strong position, Wes Agar charged in from the Cathedral End and found James Pattinson’s edge, which sent the ball flying rapidly to Nielsen’s left. Leaving the ground and extending to his full range, Nielsen gloved it perfectly, landed with a stylish roll and leapt to his feet before charging towards Jake Weatherald at point to begin celebrations of a now assured victory.

As teammates delightedly pursued him across the turf, fans applauded and commentators praised, the 26-year-old South Australian native allowed himself a smile and a mediative breath to saviour the moment.

‘I just saw it the whole way and it stuck perfectly. Not much to say really, it’s just one of those things. Sometimes they stick and sometimes they don’t. Luckily this one stuck and I was off.

‘It happens so quickly that you don’t have time to think, which is a good thing, because the simpler I keep things the better. I remember Wes was fired up that over and was bowling fast. He got the edge and I dove and it just went in.’

What wasn’t seen is the behind-the-scenes work that goes into a moment of magic like that. Countless training sessions, endless hours behind the stumps and gruelling pre-season regimes that all combine to create a skillset capable of making a remarkable play on instinct.

For Nielsen, the journey began in earnest on a Christmas morning two decades ago.

‘I bowled a little as a junior, around that time as kids when everyone did everything. But I got a pair of keeping gloves for Christmas one year and I never really took them off after that. I kept in junior cricket and loved it, which is the most important thing. I just always felt involved in the game. A bit of genetics also helps, I’m sure.’

The hereditary link Nielsen mentions is a particularly strong one, with father Tim playing 101 first-class fixtures as a wicketkeeper batsman for South Australia between 1990 and 1999 before going on to coach the national side from 2007 to 2011.

‘We went to the nets all the time as kids, not because we had to but because we loved it. Luckily the old man had a strong shoulder, so he threw plenty of balls. I’m sure sometimes it was the last thing he wanted to do after a long day at work, but he never said no.

‘I still have that love for that game. When you’re young, it’s a bit different, I was completely obsessed with it. But as you get older, you do it as a job and you’ve got other interests outside of the game; families, partners, friends, and other interests away from cricket.

‘I am not as obsessed with the game as I was when I was a young kid, but I couldn’t imagine my life without it, to be honest. I am passionate about getting better and about being the best cricketer I can be.’

A uniquely individual sport within a team environment, Nielsen has endured the highs and lows that cricket can offer and uses those experiences to keep a level-head regardless of the results on-field. At the age of 22, Nielsen became just the ninth batter in South Australia’s 150-year history to score a century on debut in the Sheffield Shield, in doing so dragging the Redbacks back into a fierce contest against Victoria.

Nielsen’s position in the state side has fluctuated since then, with his tenure coinciding with that of Alex Carey, which has seen Nielsen play as a specialist batter more regularly than a keeper in all formats. Carey’s elevation to the national side this summer has seen the creation of more opportunity for Nielsen however, and it is a chance he is determined to make the most of.

‘There’s only one spot for a wicketkeeper on the field and Kez and I get along so well that it is the perfect way for us both to be given exciting opportunities. It’s such great reward for Kez, he is a great player but more importantly he’s a great person, so he well and truly deserves his opportunities.

‘It has been great watching him play in the Ashes. He is a pleasure to work with, and one of those people you just want to see do well. And for Kez to be doing so well, that gives me an opportunity with the Redbacks and the Strikers. It’s funny how cricket works. It can be a domino effect to get your chance, so I’m really pumped Kez has nailed that Test spot and now I can try to grab this chance with both hands.’

Results have not gone the way the Strikers had envisioned to date in BBL|11, but with plenty of games left to play, Nielsen knows that a change in momentum is often just a single strong performance away. The nature of the game is that not every player can achieve their goals each time they take the field, and that is something Nielsen is becoming more adept at handling.

‘It’s a hard sport; it’s hard mentally. You expect to do well every single time, but it doesn’t always come off. Look at someone like Steve Smith, one of the best batters in the world. He makes 100 maybe every two or three Test matches, which is amazing, but it shows that you can’t achieve the desired result every time you go out there.’

Nielsen’s point is well made. Using the example of Steve Smith, universally accepted as one of the best to play the game in recent years, from 143 Test innings, he has scored 32 half-centuries and 27 centuries. Unarguably fantastic numbers, what they show is that 86 of those innings ended with less than 50 runs, and 116 without raising the bat to celebrate a triple digit score.

‘Obviously it’s a tough one to get your head around, you just want to do well every time, but it doesn’t happen like that unfortunately.

‘Sometimes you get onto a hot streak and it goes well four or five times in a row, then other times you can’t buy a run. It is so important to stay even and level, but that is easier said than done when your job is on the line, and you want to do well for your teammates and win games. If you’re not careful you can spiral into a hole sometimes, so those interests outside of cricket are important.’

Dominating those interests currently is a seven-month-old golden retriever named Maisie.

‘Caitlin, my partner, is dog obsessed and she always wanted a golden retriever so I didn’t have a choice in that one, but I absolutely love her. She has been awesome. We have the best beaches in the world in Adelaide, so we go down there most mornings for a walk, grab a coffee and switch off for an hour or so. Caitlin just adores her, so it’s been great for us. They have no idea what kind of day you’ve had, they are just so excited to see you.’

With a lengthy history stretching back to schooling days, Harry and Caitlin now live together on the city’s fringe and couldn’t be happier with their lot in life. Both have a genuine love for South Australia running through their veins, with their early days of courtship highlighted by a stereotypically Adelaide tale.

‘I went to school with Caitlin’s sister, they are such a great family. It’s a funny story; they bought our family home off us, just through pure coincidence. So when I first started seeing Caitlin it was like, oh, I’ve been here before. First time I went round I didn’t need to throw the address into maps, I knew where I was going.

‘They’ve done a lot of renovations on it and turned it into a much nicer place which is cool, but it’s the same block of land I spent all my time growing up. I have played a lot of backyard cricket innings out there.’

Taking advantage of an initiative through the Australian Cricketers Association, Nielsen is also studying in what little spare time he can find.

‘I’m studying primary teaching at UniSA, so slowly chipping away at that. Just doing a subject a semester to keep me busy. I have an interest in coaching and I feel having a teaching background is a good way into that space. ACA offers great opportunities for cricketers to study that I’d be silly to pass up on, so I really thank them for that.’

It doesn’t there in the busy off-field life of Harry Nielsen, with this summer also seeing him sign on as an ambassador with Cancer Council SA.

‘They are the charity partner for the Strikers and I was looking for something to get involved with so Jace Bode, Player Development Manager at SACA, put me in contact and I had some conversations about what I could do to help. It’s been enjoyable to learn about what they do and how they go about it, and how they help so many people in South Australia.

‘Hopefully over the next few years I can help them out as much as I can with whatever they need. It’s only a very small thing, I just help where I can, meet some people and do my bit to give back in any small way I can.’

Nielsen is next in action for Adelaide Strikers in the team’s iconic New Year’s Eve clash at Adelaide Oval. Taking on Sydney Thunder on the final evening of 2021, tickets are available now by clicking here.