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Feature

'Great to be back, almost a bit surreal' - Campbell on his Perth homecoming after near-death experience

Netherlands' coaching consultant had spent seven days in an induced coma after going into cardiac arrest in the UK in April

Ryan Campbell: "In my dream of dreams, I would love to see Scorchers fans dressed in orange and throw their support for the Dutch"  •  Peter Della Penna

Ryan Campbell: "In my dream of dreams, I would love to see Scorchers fans dressed in orange and throw their support for the Dutch"  •  Peter Della Penna

On the long journey from Sydney to Perth, Ryan Campbell found himself struggling to focus on watching films during his flight.
So, instead, he decided to stare at the flight path and his emotions stirred when he realised the plane was flying over Kalgoorlie, Western Australia's famous gold-mining town where he spent some of his formative years.
"There was this calmness that I felt. I'm home," Campbell, the former Australia wicketkeeper-batter and Netherlands coaching consultant, told ESPNcricinfo.
Two days ahead of the T20 World Cup game between Netherlands and Pakistan at Optus Stadium, Campbell returned home to Perth for the first time since April. Back then, Campbell had enjoyed a long-awaited homecoming after two years due to WA's strict Covid-19 hard border.
"It was the first time I saw mum and dad since Covid-19. I saw mates and watched the (AFL team) Dockers play," Campbell said. "I was fit and healthy."
But just days after he left Perth, Campbell went into cardic arrest in the UK while playing with his two children in a playground. He was given CPR at the scene before spending seven days in an induced coma.
He was given only a seven percent chance of survival, but rallied and has since made a full recovery.
"That's why everyone who had seen me in Perth couldn't quite believe what happened to me literally just a few days after I left," Campbell said. "They were all shocked."
Having endured so much, Campbell, who has children aged seven and four, savoured spending time with close mates at a bar shortly after arriving in Perth on Friday. Some of them hadn't seen him since his near-death experience.
"It's great to be back, almost a bit surreal," he said. "When we were in Geelong [for the first round], I had a reunion with friends. Guys from Las Vegas, Hong Kong, Perth, Sydney and Melbourne flew in.
"It was emotional to see them, emotional for them too. Grown men were in tears and giving me hugs. I'm lucky to have those people around me."
"Grown men were in tears and giving me hugs. I'm lucky to have those people around me."
Ryan Campbell, the former Australia player and current Netherlands coaching consultant
His mates like to rib him by dubbing him the 'Prince of Perth' due to Campbell's popularity as a flamboyant wicketkeeper-batter. He had also carved an effective opening partnership with Mike Hussey during WA's heyday in the late 1990s. He was a prominent figure in the local media after he retired from cricket in 2006 before heading abroad.
But that moniker might not be a stretch of the truth with Campbell, who played two ODIs in 2002, warmly embraced by several patrons at the popular watering hole.
"There were times I didn't think I would ever be back in Perth," he said. "I've spent five years in the Netherlands and the five before that in Hong Kong, but I'll always call Perth home. I'm the most proud person of this wonderful state."
While in Perth he'll also catch up with his parents, having not seen his dad since April. "We'll talk a lot of rubbish and what's going on," he said. "Of course, he'll have an opinion on the cricket, as he always watches it."
On the Netherlands' team bus from the airport to hotel, Campbell excitedly pointed out the city's landmarks to his wide-eyed players who were mostly making their first visit to Perth.
"I'm like a proud dad wanting to show off their babies," he said. "On the bus I was pointing out the stadium and the Swan River. The guys were in love with it already."
Having passed the head coach reins to Ryan Cook, the T20 World Cup is a swansong for Campbell with the Netherlands after almost six years. With his young family entrenched in the Netherlands, with his children speaking fluent Dutch and proudly supporting the Netherlands at the upcoming FIFA World Cup, Campbell was uncertain about his next move.
"My family is very settled in Europe. The kids are in school. We'll only move if there is something set in stone," Campbell said. "The romantic in me would be keen to coach in Australia but it's tough to get a job there. If it means in the UK or somewhere else, so be it."
Before then, Campbell is helping steer the Netherlands' T20 World Cup campaign, which started by them memorably navigating through the first round.
After losses to Bangladesh and India in the Super 12s, Campbell's local knowledge is hoped to help muster a highly competitive effort against a wounded Pakistan, whose semi-final dreams are hanging by a thread.
No matter the result, watching his adopted country play at the 60,000-seat Optus Stadium will cap a memorable return to Perth for Campbell.
"In my dream of dreams, I would love to see Scorchers fans dressed in orange and throw their support for the Dutch," he said. "I can't wait for the guys to play at the stadium in front of the passionate Perth fans. It will be an amazing experience."

Tristan Lavalette is a journalist based in Perth