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Nick Buchanan's greatest night

John Buchanan, the former Australia coach, spoke a lot about the perfect athlete. One look at his son will make you think he has bred one Getty Images

A giant of a man stands at the non-striker's end. His hand is on his right hip as he waits to face his first ball. There is talk about whether it is the hip that he broke when bowling or just the hip that had a congenital malformation. No one can remember. Trying to work out what has happened to Nick Buchanan's body is like trying to remember an Alastair Cook nudge. Andrew Symonds on commentary says he has "had everything from flat feet to dandruff".

Buchanan wasn't supposed to be playing in this game, this BBL, or really, at all. Even this afternoon he travelled to the match thinking, "I'm probably going to be 12th man again." Which was good, because when you have been waiting this long, the last thing you want is to know you are playing too early. "I didn't stay up all night not sleeping, stressing and worrying, I just got to the ground," he said.

Mark Howard points out that in the time since Buchanan last played at the top level, Australia has seen four Prime Ministers. In the cricket world, Pat Cummins had just played a Test and Ed Cowan was the opening bat. That is a long time to wait to get your second chance at Big-Bash cricket, and now Buchanan has to wait a little longer as Joe Burns takes a single from the last ball of the over.

Someone in the press box makes a joke about Buchanan getting run out without facing. Then someone adds: and gets injured doing it. A Brisbane Heat employee tells him to be quiet. In Queensland cricket there is no more popular cricketer, everyone wants Buchanan to do well. They have seen what happens when he doesn't.

Buchanan has overcome things with his body that normal cricketers don't overcome. Hips, groin, and ankles have all taken a beating, there have been reconstructions, rehabilitation, a shoulder injury from batting and once he self-diagnosed a groin injury and went off to start his rehab. Buchanan was blessed with an incredible body, and cursed by not being able to use it properly.

It takes four balls for Buchanan to get on strike at the Gabba. When he does, he lines up more like a batsman, not a slogger, with an almost Peter Handscomb-like stance. His first ball isn't a big swing, he does the team thing and gets Burns back on strike by dropping and running.

A few weeks ago he was promoted in a club game, something which, at 25, he has played very little of, and made 73 off 40 for the Gold Coast Dolphins. Before that, he took three wickets in a T20 game. For a normal player that wouldn't be enough to get a call-up to the Heat squad, but Buchanan isn't normal.

If that wasn't clear by his shock call-up when Josh Lalor was injured, then it should become clear from just the way he moves. When Burns hits the ball into the outfield, Buchanan is running twos in giant smooth strides while Burns looks exhausted and well behind him. At one stage he almost laps Burns, wanting to turn a two into three. His father, former coach John Buchanan, spent years talking about the perfect cricket athlete. One look at Nick, who resembles a gigantic version of Khal Drogo from Game of Thrones but who runs like one of Drogo's stallions, will make you think he has bred one.

"On the 26th of December he was a club cricketer trying to make a comeback to professional cricket, and on the 3rd of January he's playing in front of 30,000 people"

Buchanan faces only one of the first 10 balls he is out in the middle. The rest of the time, he is running hard for Burns or waiting for never-ending run-out replays to see if Burns is caught short of his ground scrambling for a two. Buchanan seems to complete it before the throw comes in. When he finally gets on strike again, a slower ball tricks him, and instead of using his power, he just takes another single.

Other than smashing a few for the Gold Coast Dolphins recently, and his general physicality, there are other reasons to believe that if Buchanan hits the ball it might disappear. Like when Matthew Hayden described him as an Aussie Andrew Flintoff.

He shouldn't even be facing the last ball of the innings; he could have easily run a two, but Burns is too tired and so Buchanan comes on strike. The last ball he faced in the Big Bash before his break was a short one from Clint McKay; he was dismissed treading on his stumps. This is of the same length, but it is met with a big swing. Buchanan starts running as it goes towards the long boundary. It's a long six.

Buchanan is already tearing from the field. His team-mates line up to pat him on the back, but he smiles and rushes past them. They want to celebrate with him; he wants to get ready for the next innings.

As he arrives for the huddle, a player from the dug-out comes over to pat him on the back. The speech goes on for a minute or so, and towards the end of the team talk he starts to smile. The small smile becomes a massive one; it's clear the talk is mentioning him. He is brimming. You can easily see why when he isn't playing cricket he's modelling.

For the last ball of the opening over he gets pushed back to long-off, and straight away Jason Roy opens up and slams one just to the right of cover and Buchanan is off. He has to travel about 40 metres, and no human being alive could make it, but it gives you the chance to see him at full stride, you can see why he played schoolboy rugby for Australia.

After six overs, Buchanan has not been asked to bowl. It's a long wait for a seamer, but considering Buchanan's recent history, it's nothing. There was a time in his life when all that waiting turned dark. And instead of spending time on his rehab, he went to look at the bottom of a bottle. He was the son of Australia's coach, a perfect specimen, a Queensland Flintoff, and he couldn't get on the field. The bottle might have been a bad choice, but it was an obvious one.

But Buchanan was sick and tired of living that way, and he didn't want to be the cricketer who could have been. He wanted to be the cricketer who was. So he stopped drinking, took up yoga, found a celebrity ironwoman partner (the David Warner way) and rededicated himself to cricket. He didn't have instant success, he barely had any success at all, but he stuck with it.

One over after the Powerplay ends, there he is, standing at the top of his run-up, his man bun falling into a ponytail, and Brendon McCullum beside him asking about the field. He looks so big you could imagine McCullum was about to ride him into battle.

In 2011, playing his first game, he was bowling to Nic Maddinson and Brad Haddin. "I felt like I was going to forget my run-up, forget how to bowl," he recalls. Today he looks calm, happy. He is no longer the young man with the high expectations. He is older; he recently played a club game where he was the oldest on the field.

As he comes in to bowl, you can see the number 16 on his back. His last over in Big-Bash cricket went for 16, "I got spanked, it haunts my memories a little bit."

He runs softly through the crease; there is no leap. It looks like a cotton-wool action, but he stands very tall. His first ball is short of a length outside off stump, and it bounces over Moises Henriques' blade. His pace says 132kmh, Andrew Symonds suggests on commentary he is usually quicker than that. He almost takes a wicket when an inside edge from Henriques just misses off stump. The over goes for six runs; Buchanan has escaped it in cricket terms, and in injury terms.

"Buchanan was blessed with an incredible body, and cursed by not being able to use it properly"

Buchanan is known to have that mythical quality of bowling a 'heavy' ball. He smashes the bat, above the splice, Burns said recently he clocks over 140kph. When he has played a game near the top level, he's been very good. In a game against Ireland before their 2015 World Cup campaign, he took 1 for 22 off six overs. There was a 5 for 51 against Loughborough MCC XI, and at the Under 19 World Cup he took eight wickets in three matches, including 4 for 16 on a day he came into the attack after Kane Richardson and Josh Hazlewood. But in October, he was taking 1 for 45 for the Gold Coast seconds.

In the next over, McCullum says on the mic that Buchanan is probably a bit nervous. Considering that on the 26th of December he was a club cricketer trying to make a comeback to professional cricket, and on the 3rd of January he's playing in front of 30,000 people and bowling at two of the most in-form players in the country, you can understand why.

McCullum keeps Buchanan on. He starts with a length ball to Henriques, who has so far missed, edged and completely mistimed three of the four balls he has faced from Buchanan. From the fifth, a straightish length ball, he tries to smash him straight. Instead, that extra bounce hits high on the bat. And yet again, Buchanan is forced to wait.

He has been around the top level of Australian cricket since 2009. He has been given five years of professional contracts with Queensland, offered a two-year deal with Western Australia, and has been involved in underage cricket and performance squads since he was a kid. He has spent most of his time as a professional cricketer in rehab watching his friends and team-mates play, and now he is watching again as Mark Steketee comes under the ball.

It only takes a few seconds, but actually, it has taken seven years, and after all that time, Nick Buchanan has his first-ever top-level wicket.

It won't be a honeymoon game for him; he will force an error from Daniel Hughes later, a top edge that will go for six handing him a 17-run over. Brisbane will lose in the last over, and Buchanan will finish his three overs with 1 for 29. He will say, "You never want to be on a losing side, and as much as it was a comeback game for me, I saw it as just another game of cricket, and you want to win. It was no different tonight."

It was different tonight. "It wasn't my greatest night," he said, but that's where Buchanan is wrong. He will play better; he might even have a full career and finally see if all that potential he had when he was young when matched with an incredibly professional work rate can get him into the Australian side as he has always dreamed. But even if he plays for Australia, it will be tonight, when he wasn't supposed to be playing for the Heat, when he'd been playing club seconds a few months ago, when he thought he'd be 12th man that was his greatest night.

When Buchanan hit that six, it made an almighty crack, but instead of standing there and enjoying it, "It was a big boundary, so I just put the head down and ran." He does't see the bowler's look of disgust; the leg-side boundary riders arch their heads up, the crowd rises from their seats or the umpire raise his arms. As he outscored his entire Big Bash career in one hit, he was turning to run the second one hard.

Nick Buchanan has been running hard for a long time. Tonight, he didn't have to.