Harris loses final battle of wounded knee
In the end, Ryan Harris' right knee was in such a bad way that he broke his leg trying to bowl on it. An emotional Harris revealed that scans showed a cracked tibia, the result of his right leg crunching down on to the turf on a knee that had long since lost the sort of cartilage and other tissue meant to cushion the impact.
The serious nature of the injury and its implications finally compelled Harris to draw the curtain on his career, after a day of conversations with the Australia's long-time physio Alex Kountouris - also on his last tour - and the doctor Peter Brukner. Together with Harris' surgeon David Young, they gently ushered Harris towards a decision to give up the game that was every bit as painful as trying to bowl with a broken leg.
"There's a crack in the tibia, I've got a little part in the top of the shin that's worn a hole at the top of the tibia that's caused the crack, from the bone on bone wearing away," Harris said. "I've had pain in this area before, and when I stood in front of the press in Kent last week I was playing five Tests. It was the next day that it jagged, I felt something one of the balls and there was a clicking.
"It's obviously knocked something and it's come to this and the pain I've had in it, partly in that game and before I tried to bowl out here was terrible. I knew something wasn't right but that's the reason why. I need surgery to fix it, I need a bone graft to get some bone in there and fix that and I've been told - I've never had that done before - it's a slow process that pointed me to this decision.
"My surgeon David Young, he didn't say in as many words that I should retire but he said it was going to be very hard. It wasn't great after that phone call. But sitting and talking to Dr Brukner and Alex, they gave me some pretty good advice and the word retire was used. It was a word I didn't want to hear but deep down I think I knew it was coming."
For all that pain, for all that discomfort and for all the lonely gym sessions a rehabilitation would have asked him to endure, Harris still thought seriously about trying again, even though he would have been 36 by the time the process was complete, with no guarantee it would allow him to bowl at his best. There were also concerns about whether Harris could do himself permanent damage that would haunt him in retirement.
"I nearly blew my head up yesterday thinking there's got to be a way I can get past this again, I've done it before," he said. "But the other side of my head was saying last time was a struggle … potentially it was four to five months minimum before I could probably run again and I'd be 36 by then. It was just going to be too hard for me and by then getting back into this side was, I think, going to be impossible as well, with the guys we've got here.
"Mentally I just don't think I could … after speaking to my wife, she saw what I went through, what I've just finished and she said you can't get through that again. The way it was with the bone and everything it made me think, and that was in my thoughts last night, about wanting to run around with my son Carter and hopefully a couple more we may want to have. Walking around the golf course is very important as well, I want to do that, otherwise I'm going to turn into a very large person."
Harris' desire to keep playing was driven largely by his sheer love of spending time around the Australia dressing room, a yearning that is often referred to by players in their latter days but never with more feeling than the 35-year-old fast bowler used here. It was why he found it almost unbearably hard to break the news to the team, despite plenty of time to run his words through his head.
"I thought I had it covered, to be honest, when I got there," he said. "We had a 50-minute bus trip on the way here and I played out in my mind what I was going to say and none of it went to plan, I barely could talk. That would be one of the hardest things I've had to do when it comes to my career, that sort of stuff. Obviously the playing part is to me very important but what most people would say when you get to this stage, the part you miss most are the guys you played with.
"And I tried to say to the guys this morning obviously that's part of the reason why you play the game. You know when you go out on the field you have blokes behind you and you know when you come in the rooms the guys that aren't playing they're behind you, the coaching staff are behind you and I think that's the part I'm going to miss the most.
"The hard thing for me was getting through the last four months but I knew that at the end was this carrot to play in the Ashes and that's what kept me going. We all bowl in pain, I've just had a problem with my knee - it was sore. Anyone who has sat in this position has probably said it many times but you want to do it for the rest of your life. It's just not possible. As I've said a number of times it's the best job in the world."
The captain Michael Clarke had little trouble quantifying what Australia will miss with Harris. One statistic that stands out about Harris is the one that Australia will now have to surmount without him in England. Australia won 16 of the 27 Test matches Harris played between 2010 and 2015, the ratio of a great team. Of the 29 matches he missed, they won only 11.
"He is my No. 1 picked bowler, in any team I've played with," Clarke said. "Any time I've asked him to do a job he's done it. If I asked him to run through a brick wall for this team, I think he'd have a crack at it. He's always worn his heart on his sleeve and he's always given his best not just to Australian cricket but Queensland and South Australia, every team he's played with.
"He loves winning as much as I do and that's a great trait to have. There is no doubt we will miss him but as I said to 'Rhino' this morning, I think it's really important for us to celebrate what has been an amazing career. He says 27 Tests, to me it's felt like 100. I don't remember playing a Test match without him. That's how fond my memories are of how great a bowler he's been. His statistics speak for themselves. He's as good as anyone to play for Australia."
As good, and as brave.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig