Brett Dorey clearly remembers lying in shock near the top of an Austrian mountain predicting his sporting career was over. He had already knocked himself out snowboarding earlier that day and was trying to navigate back to his Kirchberg base to recover when he was cut off by a German whose skis were so sharp they sliced open his right knee. It was three-and-a-half years ago but he easily re-enacts rolling up his pants to explore the wound that would eventually require 14 stitches and was so big his brother put his finger in it. Despite the haze of pain he managed a clear thought: "There goes my footy career." He was right.
Like many young Australian adults and unlike most professional sportsmen, Dorey was in Europe on an extended working holiday, which included stints in London and a job as a bulky bodyguard for the family of a Russian businessman. Ready to return home to Perth, he was considering another attempt at cracking the local Australian rules scene after playing for South Fremantle before his global adventure. "Cricket wasn't even on the agenda," he says without much emotion. While the double dose of snowboarding damage ended the prospect of using his 203cm frame as a ruckman, Dorey quickly became an accidental hero by turning up for "fun cricket".
Three seasons later and aged 28, he had metamorphosed from a park player who struggled to run because of his sore knee to a member of the Australian one-day side for three VB Series matches. An injury to Western Australia's Michael Clark provided the initial senior opening and he leapt up the rungs like a fresh mountain climber. Further promotions for the former state under-age representative came with a one-day tour to Bangladesh last April - he added a fourth limited-overs cap - and a place at the Academy for the winter. He is currently on tour with the Centre of Excellence squad in southern Africa, with the side due to face the South Africa Academy, Zimbabwe and Kenya over the next three weeks.
The horizontal mark on the top of his knee cap and occasional pain are the main reminders of his previous life. In his London incarnation Dorey was a hefty 125kg with double chins and doubts over how he'd lose them. A $10,000 debt collected from his trip was another weight around his expanding neck. As he finished off his 18-week stint at the Academy last week he was 32kg lighter, incredibly fit, verging on skinny and satisfied with his new job. "It took me ten months to pay back Mum and Dad and the credit cards," he says. "The next minute I was signing contracts for years worth hundreds of thousands of dollars."
Dorey's physical and financial transformations match his status as Australian cricket's high-speed elevator. "Last year was a year that really put me up as one of the top five bowlers in Australia," he says. "It just happened like that, I didn't expect it. Coming up to Christmas I was the leading wicket-taker in the Pura Cup - I was happy going from nowhere to there. Then all of a sudden I was playing for Australia. It was a big shock for everyone."
Even Dorey's father was caught by the speed of his previously lethargic son's fast-tracking. Through adolescence and early adulthood Dorey was constantly - and justifiably - being told he was too lazy. "So Dad said if I played for Australia he'd retire from work as a wool store manager," Dorey says, admitting his old training ethic was poor. "When I got picked I told him he had to stop working but he said he couldn't because he still had two years left." Dorey's parents were unable to watch him live last summer, but he plans a flight for them as partial payback for the years of support the next time he gangles out behind Ricky Ponting.
The international introduction was memorable and occasionally traumatic. He admits a lack of big-game experience hindered his preparation during the VB Series, but he has not been scarred by returns of 1 for 51 off nine overs on debut in Melbourne ("I got whacked at the end"), 0 for 35 off four and super-substitution at 19 overs on his first ever visit to Sydney ("Everyone was thinking this poor bloke is getting smashed") and 0 for 48 off ten in his second match against South Africa at the Telstra Dome.
Casual and hip, Dorey has a piercing in the tragus of his right ear and slops in thongs as he speaks openly about his treatment from the batsmen, particularly Sanath Jayasuriya at the SCG. He now understands the difference between state and international lengths. "In first-class cricket you can be this far [he holds his hands about two feet apart] away from off stump and get away with it," he says. "In international cricket it's a tighter square. If you're at the top of off stump or the fourth stump you'll be alright. If you're not right you have seen what happens - you get smashed."
Dorey almost viewed himself as a fan when he joined the squad, meeting half the team for the first time at the opening training session. In 2001 he travelled to watch the Ashes and in the VB Series a year before his debut he was "fizzing up" in the WACA stands with his mates. Non-cricket dreams and real-world worries over careers have helped him avoid a life-or-death perspective about succeeding in sport.
"I went from grade cricket to international cricket in two-and-a-half years so if I don't do things at first-class level I don't get down," he says. "Although I'm 28 I don't see myself and my body as going downhill. I feel I'm going forward and getting stronger. I think I've got seven years left in me easily, so I'm not too worried if I miss out. I can wait a year of two."
October's Champions Trophy is looming and Dorey has made the 30-man preliminary squad and will become an Ashes contender if injuries or poor form strike the first-choice attack. "Whatever happens, happens," he says in an Australian version of c'est la vie. "I don't think about the future or everyone talking about the Ashes. I don't get myself into that. I'm not putting pressure on myself to get picked or to play." It's a popular line from sportsmen, but there is no doubt Dorey means it.
The serious gash to his knee helped him make a mark in an unlikely area and changed his life. He doesn't owe money to his parents anymore, is the fittest he's been in his life, is travelling with his cricket mates and has altered his right-arm action to increase his pace from the mid-130kph range. "Hopefully my story gives people a chance who didn't think they had a hope," he says. "Those guys who were good at a young age and got an injury or something else happened." Like a snowboard accident or gaining life skills on a working holiday. "They can still get there."
Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo