As much as he doesn't want to be, D'Arcy Short is distracted by what he cannot see. Sitting on the lounge in his Southern River rental in Perth, he feels like a man caught between the present and the future. His dog, Ralph, waits loyally at his feet, hoping their little game can continue while simultaneously sensing something is off. D'Arcy's mind has thrown forward to three days from now, when he takes his first steps into an unknown world. But he is anxious about making every hour in this one count.
The last couple of years have been an endless slog of discipline and determination, the daily grind of a man desperate to make the defining play in his life. But now he has reached a kind of end point in that journey, where contentment has been found: a loving partner, success in his chosen profession, and the literal foundations of a new home. He wants to savour the normality for a little while longer, before he boards a plane and the unrelenting procession of his new reality kicks in. Part of him would happily ride off quietly into the sunset, never looking back.
But D'Arcy knows the kicker: this is also just the beginning.
He pulls his suitcase down from the cupboard, and Ralph grumbles.
"He'll shadow me around the house," D'Arcy says. "And he'll crack the shits, because he knows I'm going away."
He scribbles some notes on a sheet of paper, the finishing touches to a best-man speech he has penned for a close mate's wedding tomorrow. He knows his new-found fame will be a discussion point there, which makes him a little reticent. But as ever, he will attempt to steer conversation away from a subject he prefers not to talk about.
"I'll try to keep it normal, just be myself," he says. "I'll try to avoid talking about myself, like I always do."
He is nervous about the speech, but only to a point; the idea of it is more daunting than the process itself, which he knows he will handle once he finds himself in the moment.
"I'll be alright," he says, talking to himself as much as anyone else. "I'll get through it."
The sentiment applies to not just the speech, but to the first eight weeks of the rest of his life.
The first time D'Arcy Short went to India, the culture shock slapped him hard across the face. The chaos and the rush and the sheer mass of people were suffocating. He phoned his dad and told him the taxi trip from the airport to the hotel had been the scariest ride of his life. And this is a man whose idea of relaxation is fishing in the Western Australian outback, from a boat that is smaller than some of the crocodiles lining the riverbanks. Of course, the two scenarios are worlds apart, which in itself underpins those fears.
"I'm happy not to see people for a day," D'Arcy says as he shifts the topic to those fishing trips with his dad, Lachlan Short, on the Ord River in Kununurra, a town on the WA-Northern Territory border, some 800 kilometres south-west of Darwin. "And out there, if you're out on the water, you don't see anyone."
He has been to India twice with the National Indigenous Squad, both trips lasting fewer than 14 days and carried out with about as much anonymity as a touring cricket team can manage on the subcontinent.
This time around, he is a prize signing for Rajasthan Royals in the Indian Premier League, and the stakes are vastly different. But for Short, there remains a lingering sense of ambiguity about it all, compounded by the franchise's own fragilities: Rajasthan have returned to the competition from a two-year ban after a betting scandal, while their original captain, Steve Smith, has had his contract torn up for his role in Australia's ball-tampering controversy.
It is in this maelstrom that Short is about to get his first taste of the IPL, the world's most lucrative cricket tournament. A year ago, he could have been another face in the crowd. Today, he is a man saddled with the weight of expectation which, like a best man's speech at a wedding, makes him nervous ahead of the event.
"There's pressure on me to do what I've done in the Big Bash," he says. "Playing spin as well, I know that's going to be a big thing that they'll probably try and target me on. But I'm looking forward to the challenge."
He is less enthused about the monotony of it all; the repetitious schedule, the hemmed-in feeling of constant hotel accommodation, and the unending flights. It's this kind of minutiae of his new life that jars with him, pushing forward in his mind a reluctance to leave a home and life he has worked so hard to build.
"But that's something I'll figure out over there," he says, searching for conviction. "It won't be too bad. I know with cricket these days, if you want to make a good career out of it, you've got to tour round and do these things.
"For me it always comes back to, it's not forever."
There are also people he does not want to let down. His partner, Gemma. His parents, Lachlan and Cindy. And above all, himself.
He has been there before, and he won't go back.
D'Arcy John Matthew Short is the latest in a long line of D'Arcys. His great-grandfather was D'Arcy Short, his grandfather was Peter D'Arcy Short, and in Kununurra, his father, Lachlan D'Arcy Short, just goes by 'Shorty'. The outback town once served as the backdrop to Baz Luhrmann's Hollywood epic Australia and nowadays is a home base for the likes of Shorty as they come and go from work at the nearby Argyle Diamond Mine.
He is as surprised as anyone by his son's explosion onto cricket's big stage over the past six months. He knew D'Arcy had the ability, but the issue of harnessing it effectively was another matter.
"We always spoke about (playing for Australia)," he says. "He's always dreamed about it. A lot of the problem early on was he tried too hard to get there."
Shorty remembers a one-off one-day game for Western Australia in 2011 as the beginning of what could conceivably have been the end when, as far as most were concerned, a disillusioned D'Arcy fell off the cricket map.
"They didn't seem to look at him again after that, and he lost his way a little bit," he says, though he corrects himself on the second point. "Not 'lost his way' – the determination was there, but he just didn't know what else to do."
Others, D'Arcy included, concede the determination did in fact wane, and was replaced by a lethargy and a feeling that his second chance would simply happen. He trod water for a few seasons in Perth Premier Cricket and did a personal trainers course while, ironically, his weight blew out to 95kg.
The coaches of the National Indigenous Squad (NIS) started referring to him as Wreck-It Ralph, due to his likeness to the popular cartoon movie character at the time, whose giant forearms were the standout feature of a larger-than-life physique. Around the same time, he began to lose touch with the NIS, largely because he – probably rightly – assessed he was further advanced as a cricketer than others in what was a fairly amateur set-up. By the time the 2015 Imparja Cup (since renamed the National Indigenous Cricket Carnival) rolled around, he had to be talked into playing; he was also sniffing a premiership with Gosnells, his Premier Cricket club in Perth. But while there was loyalty to Gosnells, there was also loyalty – and a sense of responsibility – to Indigenous cricket; he had taken his status as a role model in that community to heart. Eventually he settled on a compromise: he would lend his talents to the Indigenous Carnival but return early so he could fulfil his commitments with Gosnells.
At the time, Cricket Australia was making a concerted effort to improve its Indigenous cricket program, and had placed a greater emphasis on making the NIS set-up more professional. This was explained to Short in a phone call, in which he was asked to consider again making himself available for selection. At a time when he was on the outer with the WACA, the NIS was his lifeline to greater opportunities.
He accepted the invitation, played an Australia A side in Brisbane, and in the space of one whirlwind innings in which he lofted a James Pattinson delivery back over his head and onto a grandstand roof, had convinced Sheffield Shield-winning coach Greg Shipperd, who was an assistant with the NIS at the time, that he was destined for greater things.
Shipperd phoned Warriors coach Justin Langer, which brings us to the most well-told part of the Short narrative: the sermon from Langer that ultimately turned his career around.
"I've always found the best advice in life is really honest," Langer says. "So I told him: 'the perception around Western Australia is you've got some talent – you can hit a six – but you don't make any runs, and you're really out of shape. That to me is a sign of your discipline and your focus, and your commitment to the game'."
Langer's candidness cut deep with Short, not only because he knew it was on the mark. He also knew he had a shared characteristic with the Test legend sitting in front of him. Langer was about as famous a scrapper as Australian cricket had produced. He was a fighter. Short loved that about him, and knew he that trait burned deep within him, too. He had developed it as a kid, competing with his old man in the backyard, then in the earliest days of his cricket career when, as a 13-year-old who had made the switch from baseball, he had stood up to grown men in Darwin's first-grade competition.
"When you're young and you're playing against adults," he says, "you've either got the option of letting them say what they want and get to you, or giving it back and showing you're in for a fight."
Somewhere along the way, between the disillusionment and the frustration, he had lost that fight. He knew he had to get it back.
Langer had reawakened a beast. Short's turnaround was rapid and dramatic. With age, he had naturally gathered maturity and self-awareness, coming to learn the conditions in which he operated at his optimum. In the immediacy, a return to the fold at the WACA provided mentors to push him to a higher level in his training. And the longer-term carrot of success illuminated his path.
"He came to training, we got him in the (GPS) vest, we helped him run around a bit and we tested him," Langer says. "But to his absolute credit, he did most of it himself."
There was another pivotal player in the process: Short's girlfriend, Gemma. The pair has been together for almost three years and it is no coincidence the wheels of his recovery began turning during the same period. A qualified personal trainer, Gemma helped D'Arcy adopt a healthier lifestyle, and has been there to ensure it is carried out.
"Gem made sure I was doing everything right in terms of eating, especially at times when I said it was getting too hard," he says. "Having someone there, always on my back, helps a lot. You know what you're supposed to be doing, but having the determination and mindset to do it, that's what's different."
D'Arcy returned to the National Indigenous Squad for another tour in 2016. On the first night he was sharing a room with Shipperd and one of the support staff. He took his shirt off and they couldn't believe the transformation; he was 15kgs lighter, and toned. But it was more than the physical shift. In years gone by, he had been spoken to about being punctual, as well as his poor communication – sometimes days would go by before he would respond to a coach's text message. But the new D'Arcy was different; still largely reserved and content in his own company, but possessing the confidence to be a decisive, positive force in a group environment.
"He had gone from being the kid who was late for the bus," says one member of the NIS support staff, "to suddenly being the one sending out the WhatsApp messages to the group saying what time the bus was leaving."
Shorty watched his son hit 61 off 29 balls on his KFC Big Bash debut in December 2016 and had little idea of the 14 months that would follow. If he couldn't watch a match on television, he would log onto the MyCricket website and follow the scores. Sooner that than getting any details out of D'Arcy over the phone.
"It's like pulling teeth," he says, cracking a smile. "We'll talk for a while, I'll ask him how he's been going, he'll say 'yeah alright'. I'll ask him how many he got, he'll say, 'yeah I got a hundred'… you have to ask 101 questions to get some answers."
D'Arcy makes his way to Kununurra as often as he can, and he and Shorty both know the time between those opportunities will be longer now. Last time he went, he brought Gemma and her parents with him. Shorty played tour guide on the Ord, helping them catch their first barramundi.
He and his wife Cindy visit D'Arcy in Perth, too, though the comparative hustle and bustle of the WA capital is an overwhelming proposition for them, meaning the idea of a trip to India is unthinkable.
"A few too many people for me," Shorty says of the subcontinent. "My wife's the same. A bit too full-on for us."
Instead they are biding their time, safe in the knowledge that D'Arcy's new world does not begin and end with India. A contract in the Caribbean Premier League will likely lead all three of them to the island paradise of St Lucia later this year.
"We think that might be a nicer place for us to go," Shorty says. "A bit more laidback."
For D'Arcy, the CPL will be simply another leg in what is unfolding as a chaotic 2018 schedule. A whirlwind summer of BBL led straight into a T20I tri-series in Sydney, Hobart, Melbourne and Auckland, before a return to Perth for the back half of the Shield season. Now comes the IPL, which will be followed by an NIS tour of the UK, where he is a good chance to link up with Australia's ODI squad for a series against England, before heading to Zimbabwe for another limited-overs series. Beyond that is the CPL, scheduled to finish mid-September, which will allow him to return home in time for the beginning of the JLT One-Day Cup with the Warriors and another home summer of cricket.
In India, his contract with Rajasthan is worth AUD$775,000. With St Lucia, it's AUD$110,000. In between, he looks a strong chance of becoming a centrally-contracted player with Cricket Australia. Throw in match payments and the likelihood of greater endorsements, and it is comfortably a seven-figure earning across the coming 12 months.
"People only see the money but for him, he cares about the cricket," Langer explains. "As long as he doesn't get carried away or distracted by what's not important – the money and the fame and all that crap, which I don't see happening with him; he's not a big party boy, that's not him. He's just a good Aussie kid."
Which only makes the madness of the next phase of his life more daunting. At the beginning of last summer, when he was named on the Warriors' contracted player list, D'Arcy put a deposit on a house. Across the past couple of months, he's watched as the concrete slab has been poured, and the walls have gone up, excited by the prospect of moving into his first home. Now, as the physical focal point of his new life is taking shape, he's about to board a plane.
Langer needed one exchange with Short to know there had been a fundamental change in the 27-year-old following his head-turning T20 performances with the Hurricanes and Australia. In four innings in the Shield afterward, he had passed 10 just once in four innings at the top of the order, and there continued to be questions regarding how or where he slotted into a first-class XI, if at all. But Short was forthright in his stance on the matter.
"He said to me, 'Mate, I just want you to know, I want to be an opening batsman'," Langer recalls.
"I said 'Really?'.
"He said, 'Yep yep, that's what I want to do. I want to commit to that. I want to be an opening batsman in red-ball cricket as well'.
"For me, that's a great sign. He's starting to grow, starting to blossom."
Short made 35 and 66 opening in that final Shield match of the season, and having already impressed in his maiden international series, further opportunities look likely, particularly given the absence of David Warner and Steve Smith from Australia's national set-up in the next 12 months.
Even prior to their suspensions, Short had manoeuvred himself into a position where he was a virtual must-pick in the T20I team, while his appeal as a dashing left-handed opener in the Warner mould could well be irresistible to selectors eyeing the 50-over World Cup in 16 months. Ironically, one of those could be Langer; presently he is considered favourite to succeed Lehmann as national coach.
The 105-Test veteran believes the IPL experience has "only upside" for Australia's cricketers, and cited the example of Short working on his left-arm wrist spin with Royals mentor Shane Warne. At the same time, he sees the next challenge in D'Arcy's career as coming from elsewhere.
"He has to continue developing his red-ball game," he says. "He's an aggressive left-handed opening batsman, who's a gun fielder and bowls a bit.
"He could be, dare I say it, like Davey Warner."
Langer points to technical aspects of Short's game that need improving if he is going to take his success beyond the largely flat tracks and up-and-down offerings presented to him in Twenty20 cricket. He needs to "sniff the ball", he says, by which he means get his head closer to it, and in turn, improve his footwork, which at present is limited. Promisingly for Short, be it at Western Australia or with the national side, he will have Langer in his corner.
"He knows that he's by no means the finished product, especially in red-ball cricket," Langer says. "But how exciting is that? He's a professional cricketer, he's going well, and he's still got massive areas of improvement, both mentally and technically."
The last time D'Arcy was named Indigenous Cricketer of the Year was 2011. When he earned that accolade again this year, the symmetry was telling. Seven years had passed and Short's life had changed significantly, but the foundations had largely remained the same.
"My family has always been there to support me through the tough times," he says. "And I take pride in (being Indigenous), always reverting back to where I've come from."
As he prepares for India and the onslaught beyond, he continues to placate his own hesitancy about leaving home with his excitement for the cricket itself, as well as having a long-term view of his career. It is the only way to unify his divided sense of self.
"A cricket career can be two to three years, or it can be five to ten years, depending on how well you go or how long you want to play for basically," he says. "So I just keep remembering that.
"I get time at home every now and then, and cherish that time at home, and I think that's what gets me through it."
As his son flies out to India and beyond, Shorty will be keeping tabs on him via online scorecards and those phone conversations, but in his eyes, D'Arcy has nothing left to prove.
"I'm just proud the way he's turned out, mate," he says. "More than just his cricket. He's got a kind heart, and he respects everybody."
In the meantime, he will ensure D'Arcy's rod stays in working order as he waits for his son to re-join him. When he does, they will be out on the deep, green water before daybreak, lines cast, and not another human being in sight.