Head for a challenge

THE ball that ploughed into Tom Cooper's skull at more than 140km/h did incredible damage to the young cricketer but today the former Corndale lad will take a big step in a comeback when he plays in the opening Sheffield Shield match of the season for South Australia.

The Redbacks are hosting Tasmania at the Adelaide Oval, and the 22-year-old is expected to bat at No 5 in the young South Australian team.

Only six months ago Cooper was unsure if he would play again.

The young right-hander was struck by a rearing Shane Harwood delivery that fractured his skull as the Redbacks played Victoria in Melbourne.

“It was the third ball I faced from Shane Harwood and I just didn't pick it up and your natural instinct is to turn your head,” Cooper said from Adelaide yesterday.

“It's a bit silly because all of the protection is at the front of a helmet. Anyway, the ball hit me at the base of the skull, missing the helmet.

“It hurt but the worst thing was the headaches I had for about two-and-a-half, three months.

“I'd wake up and feel like I had a hangover and the headaches would last all day. I couldn't do anything physical and I was bored out of my mind but it slowly went away.”

While the doctors said it would take time to overcome the injury, Cooper struggled to adapt away from his support system and doubts emerged in the youngster's mind.

“The first month was the hardest because the season was still going and all the boys were away playing so I was by myself and missing out on playing,” the former student of St John's College, Woodlawn, said.

“It wasn't as bad when the season finished but it did play a little bit on my mind (whether he would play again).

“Getting back into it wasn't as bad as I thought. I had been hit before in the nets so I didn't worry too much. As soon as I got the bat back in my hands I was pretty confident.”

After edging back into training, Cooper was sent to the Australian Cricket Academy in Brisbane and spent four months under the guidance of former Test captain Greg Chappell.

“Training at a world-class facility on turf wickets all winter was great,” he said.

“When I got back to Adelaide a lot of the boys had only been able to get on turf wickets once. The weather allowed us to do a lot more training outside.

“I had a few good chats with him (Chappell) and a lot of the other coaches that were around.

“It was cricket 24-seven and I'm feeling pretty good. We finished with a three-week tour to India and then I went on a pre-season tour with SA to Mooloolaba.”

Cooper may face another former Far North Coast product today, with Alstonville's Brendan Drew selected in the 13-man Tasmanian squad.

Each State will name its starting XI this morning.

“Yeah, I know him (Drew), and I've had a bit to do with him over the years,” Cooper said. “It's nice to play against blokes you know.”

While the tall, composed right-hander is overcoming his own injury, South Australian team-mate Callum Ferguson will be out for the season after injuring his knee while playing for Australia in the Champions Trophy in South Africa.

Ferguson will have a knee reconstruction and is out for the Australian summer. The injury may open the door further for Cooper, who is keen to establish himself in the South Australian Twenty20, one-day and Sheffield Shield teams.

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