Transcript: Couch Talk 44 with Dirk Nannes

Couch Talk Episode 44 (play)

Guest: Dirk Nannes

Host: Subash Jayaraman

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Subash Jayaraman– Hello and welcome to Couch Talk. Today’s guest is a man that has worn many colours – for Victoria, for Australia, for Netherlands, for Delhi, for Highveld, and more recently, for Royal Challengers Bangalore. The accidental cricketer, Dirk Nannes himself! Welcome to the show, Dirk!

Dirk Nannes – Nice little brief, this, isn’t it? Thanks for having me.

SJ– My pleasure! Your background is a well known story. Very accomplished skier, Dutch parents, and self confessed accidental cricketer. You made your First Class debut for Victoria around the age when fast bowlers are generally leaving the game. What really made you get into cricket?

DN– Well, I always played when I was a kid, all through my juniors, I was rubbish. I was third [division] and stuff like that. Then I got into skiing full time. So, I was always away in the summer, I’m always away in the northern winters. So, I really didn’t get a chance to play cricket. I’ve played cricket, but never played it very seriously, like the representative cricket or anything like that. I wasn’t any good, always slow… I can bowl the tennis ball fast when I was in school, but I didn’t try to put that in an action with a cricket ball. So, I didn’t really bowl fast. I was already in my mid-20s where I finally actually started bowling fast, and eventually someone said that I should hang around and play a year rather than go overseas and I might play for Victoria, and the next year, I did. And at Victoria is where it kind of started. And I fell into it. i never had these aspiration that the other people have for cricket, that was never me. I always wanted to be a skater and a musician. That is why I sort of get passed around as an accidental cricket because I never really wanted to be one, I guess.

SJ– you played for Netherlands in the 2009 T20 WC, and soon after you debuted Australia. Soon after, you were in the 2011 T20 WC for Australia. A lot of the regular listeners of the show have questions regarding this shift in allegiance. How difficult was the choice to play for Netherlands in 2009 and soon after for Australia?

DN– I was a victim of circumstances and I guess it worked. Before the 2009 WC, they had a squad of 30 announced and I knew I wasn’t gonna be picked in the squad of 30 for that WC. I was 32-33 or so then, and I thought, “Geez, I am not even in the 30-man squad after being the leading wicket taker in Australia for the last 2 or 3 years. If they are not going to pick me now, they are never going to pick me.” So,  I wanted to play in a World Cup. So, I had the chance to go and play for Holland, they had kept in touch with me a bit about it. so, why not go and play in a World Cup. That was about the time I got picked up in the IPL in that April. I played well in the IPL and played in the World Cup, played 2 games for Holland. I think a month later, I was playing for Australia.

They [playing for Holland and Australia] were very, very extremely different experiences. It’s hard to say what I was more proud of doing. Growing up, you’d certainly rather play for your home country – Australia, but I’ve had a good experience playing with Holland as well. The game where we beat England at Lord’s in the first game of the 2009 T20 World Cup is still the sporting highlight of my career. That is better than any other moment that I’ve had. Which seems strange, but that was just the David and Goliath kind of moment that I played in. I was very fortunate and glad to have played for Holland. It certainly opened to door for me to play for Australia as well.

SJ– If you had continued playing for Holland, you would’ve been in pretty much all their international fixtures. Once you decided to represent Australia, and Jarrod Kimber wrote about it in 2009 – “Oh really, Hilditch?” – when you weren’t included in the 30-member squad. Your opportunities were limited because of your age at the time and (Australian cricket) moving towards youth and all that. so, any regrets, on whether you should’ve continued representing Netherlands?

DN– Not really, no. I’ve been able to play at MCG in front of 70000 – 80000 people. I went to the 2011 T20 WC in the West Indies when I was the leading wicket taker in the world. These are the things that I wouldn’t have been able to do had I been playing for Netherlands. And, I felt no regrets at the change. I think I made the right choice. I loved to be playing the World Cups and those stuff.

On the year that I was dropped, I had taken more wickets than anybody else in Twenty20 cricket in a calendar year. Still, on January 6th or something, I was dropped. I think my dropping came at the same time as Simon Katich got dropped. There was a lot of furore about him and I think I was kind of glossed over in that respect, but I felt pretty hard done by when I was dropped. But Geez, what can you do, I don’t pick the team?

SJ– Do you still hold out hope that you might get the chance to don the Australia colours?

DN– Of course. I like to think that I’d be picked in the 30 at least, be considered for the next World Cup. You cannot become the leading wicket taker in the world in Twenty20 cricket by being bad at it. I’m still bowling quick, and I still have something to offer. So, who knows! The way the selection have gone in the last 12 months, who knows what they are gonna do!

SJ– Would you be interested in representing a national team only if it is Australia, or even if its Holland in the upcoming T20 World Cup?

DN– I haven’t played for Holland for 3 or 4 years. I will have to qualify to play for them. I can’t do that now. That’s ruled out. I’ve got plenty of time to wait

SJ– Now, you are playing for Royal Challengers Bangalore. So, let’s talk about the IPL. Is this 2 month caravan grind, where you are crisscrossing India, and we are getting a flavour of it form the diaries that you are writing for cricinfo, and also the pictures on RCB’s website. This grind, what kind of an impact does it have on your personal and professional lives, where you are constantly packing and unpacking, moving between cities and hotels, and getting in and out of planes and other modes of transportation? From the pictures we saw, you have your family there with you, a lot of the players don’t. So how does it work personally and professionally?

DN– I think that for someone like myself, it is a lot easier. I have got as much normality here as I possibly could. I have my family here. I am one of the people that can actually get out of the hotel. It’s kind of strange. I’m fortunate that I haven’t played in a while. Because not many people recognize me. If you are someone like Chris Gayle, that poor guy can’t even leave his Hotel room, can’t even get down to the breakfast table, he gets swamped. It’s very different for the big name guys. But, I don’t think its just in the IPL, it’s just like that for travelling in India for cricketers. You can’t put that down to something that happens in the IPL.

I’m quite fortunate that I have my family here with me and have the travels here like any other tour but the grind does get quite a bit hard with the travelling. Every other day, you have to travel in India and sort of like a travelling circus. Starting about a week’s time, we have about 4 road trips coming up in the space of 10 days, so that’s where the grind is going to get a bit hard, but I don’t think it’s any different from any tour you go on with your national team. Fortunately at the IPL, you have got a [home] base where as on international tour, you don’t have a base. For example, if you are on a tour in the U.K., every time you move, you have to pack up everything where as in IPL, you always have a base to come back to.

You travel from Bangalore, you leave a bag behind with the stuff that you don’t need and you only have to pack light, so it is pretty easy to travel around in that respect. But what becomes tiresome is that the actual travel itself. If you travel from here to Kolkata – it’s just a 2.5 hour flight away but you spend an hour to the airport, another 45 minutes in the airport, another 30 minutes on the other side in the airport, an hour to get to the hotel, checking in, so pretty much a full day of travel even though the flight is only 2.5 hours. So that stuff is kind of grinding. It’s just part of the job, really and you get used to it. Everyone’s got an iPad, iPhone, laptops, magazines, books, plenty of rubbish to speak about, everyone is armed for such sort of trips, noise cancelling headphones and lot of sleep to catch up on.

SJ: How does it affect your ability to train? 1) What is the level of intensity, amount of time and the way you train is different from say, when you were training for Victoria , Australia or Netherlands?

DN: It’s a very different dynamic in the IPL. There are 2 teams within a team, is one of the better ways to explain it. You’ve got your playing 11 and you’ve got the guys outside the playing 11. Both of them train completely differently. Your playing 11 play so much that they hardly ever need to train. The bowlers especially. They need a day off after a game. There are not gonna go the training session and bowl flat out in the training session. SO training for them is very different from someone like myself – who due to matters of circumstances and team balance is not playing at all – my training regime is very different to theirs. I’m using the training sessions as my big hit out.

When you are training with the national team, you are training with may be 15 players but at the IPL, we’ve got 30 or so people in the squad plus plenty of bowlers who turn up every day. So it’s a very different dynamic in that respect. So you get more time of service, meaning more time holding the bat and playing in the IPL than say with the national team. In terms of training intensity and stuff, it is what you make of it. There are guys who know they are not gonna get a game and treat it differently than those who are the 12, 13, 14 who treat it very seriously trying to crack into the squad. I guess what they do here is leave it up to the professional cricketers themselves rather than leaving up to the coach to tell the individual person what they are going to do in a day. They leave it to the individual to get out the training session what they need to get out of it. Lot of the times, it sorts the men from the boys. It sorts “the people who want to play” from those who are “just showing up”.

SJ: This is a question from a listener, Siva. How do you handle the highs and the lows? One year, you are the spearhead of the attack and another season, you don’t even see the field.

DN: [Laughs]. It’s a tricky one. I’m going through a bit of a strange season. I came from South Africa and I was injured when I arrived and missed the first 3 games through injury. I’ve been fit from then on. I’ve been fit for the last 4 or 5 games. It’s been quite strange. You are fit and you know you should be playing but the way the team is structured, certain parts of our team are not standing up. So we have got to load out batting with international players for the runs that aren’t coming from the local players and that means international bowlers don’t get a run. It’s a very different situation in this IPL than I have had in the past. Through no fault of the team, me or anyone else, it’s just the circumstances that I’m not getting a game. Some people could kick up a fuss and argue that they should be playing but really, as a team, you are trying to put the best team out in the park every time. At the moment, you can only have 4 international players and you need 7 Indians. I can’t [seem to] fit in to that team because we don’t have the Indian batting depth at the moment to allow me to play. So, I guess it’s an interesting situation and is unique to the IPL because of the 4 international players rule but what can you do? All I can do is keep training, and if injuries or situation or conditions allow, I might get a game. For the moment, I’m just training away and do the best I can.

SJ: Well, looking from the outside, there is an obvious switch that needs to be made [by the RCB] but we will let that happen on its own time.

I read an interview of yours that you did with Ant Sims, when you were in South Africa for Sports Illustrated. The article was “Guns for hire” and she was talking about the mercenary aspect of the [T20] players. In the intro, I mentioned that you are somebody that has worn many colours. What is your take on it? There is a lot of argument over “club vs country”, and one of your team mates, Chris Gayle, is a prime example of that. Then you have Kieron Pollard, Dwayne Bravo and yourself. So briefly, your take on that mercenary aspect?

DN: Oh! I can’t even remember what I said in that interview.

SJ: I don’t have to quote you from that interview but go ahead, give your opinion.

DN: Look, Basically what you want to know is the club vs country debate? See, for people like myself, you get a lot of criticism in the media for the choices we make, but you have to understand from the perspective of the players. For me, cricket is my business, it’s my job. Me staying in the park and me making money out of cricket is my job. It’s my company and the way I run my living. So, let’s talk from the perspective of Chris Gayle and the choices he might make. He is a guy who’s turned the IPL on its head. You have a Gautam Gambhir getting $2.4 million and he [Gayle] signed up for an undisclosed sum of money – I do not know how much it was – but let’s say he is getting $1 million a year. Why would someone like that go and earn $100,00 – if that – with the West Indies? You have to realize from the player’s perspective that they have a finite career and they have to make their money and help their house and their family.

Yes, there is an obligation to play and support the team that supported you when you were young and Gayle is in an unique position. He’s been arguing with the board [WICB], I don’t even know what that’s about. It would take something extraordinary for Chris Gayle to go play for a board that he is not entirely happy for. Not only will he going to play for a board he is not overly happy working with for the way he’s been treated but he will also be losing the $1 million. People can stand up and say,”these guys are choosing the club over their country and are choosing the cash.” What if these people sitting at homes are told, “You can get a million dollars for playing in the IPL or you can get $5000 for playing a test match”? So many people would take the million dollars, wouldn’t they? There are so many more aspects to this. I find it quite frustrating at times that players are getting tainted by the club vs country debate and I think it’s slowly dissipating from cricket.

For myself, I had to give away 4-day cricket and ODI so that I can prolong my T20 career as long as I could and that was purely due to my body. Probably, the biggest regret I will have in my career is not playing test cricket. I’m not saying that I gave up the chance to play test cricket or anything like that. When I gave away my chance to play FC cricket, I didn’t have the chance to play test cricket any more. I think I was good enough in my prime to play test cricket but circumstances didn’t get to the point where I was not picked in my prime or picked at the wrong time. I never said I wouldn’t want to play test cricket for my country. That would have been my proudest achievement. But time has passed and I had to give up 4-day cricket as that was the time I was getting injured and the next year I gave up playing One Day cricket to prolong playing Twenty20 cricket.

Now I have got a great life with my family. I get to travel with them all the time all around the world. We spend 7 or 8 months of the year together. Rest of the time I am playing T20 competitions everywhere. Look, I have got a terrific job and I’m not going to apologise for giving up playing 4-day cricket for my state and all that. I am not gonna apologise for that. I have got a great job and doing what 99% of the population would do, if they were in my shoes. It is an interesting one. Players cop a lot of unnecessary grief for the choices they have made, but really, if you put yourselves in the players’  shoes, the vast majority of the public will come up with the exact same decision as the player has.

Probably, one of the interesting ones at the moment, a controversial one is the decision of Michael Clarke to come and play in the IPL. He’s been such a huge opponent to anyone going and playing in the IPL , vocal in the media, and was always against the IPL cricket, how it’s bad for Australian cricket and blah blah blah, but now he’s changed his tune and is playing in the IPL. That’s a decision that will take some explaining on his part. But he hasn’t let that get in the way of his commitment to playing for Australia. He hasn’t given away playing for his country. But, if suddenly, he starts getting burnt out, probably only then, can you criticize his decision to play in the IPL.

SJ: Fair enough. I don’t blame anyone making the decisions based on what they think is in their best interest. Anyhow, you’re going to be 36 in a few days –

DN: A lot of days. A lot of days. 14 days [at the time of recording].

SJ: You’re 36 and you are a fast bowler. I hope you continue for as long as you can. But do you have plans for post-retirment life. This is a question from listener Girish. How do cricketers handle their lives [post-retirement]? Usually, cricketers are focussed on one thing, living in a bubble and suddenly, one day, they have to retire or get dropped or injured. What is your perspective on this?

DN: My situation is an interesting one. Most cricketers are done playing by the time they reach my age. I’m a little bit different in that I really started cricket only when I was 29. So, I don’t have the first 10-12 years of waer and tear on my body. I’m an interesting test case in that I’m still fresh even though I am old in the body and be young at the same time.

Regards to what I am going to do when I retire, certainly, from an Australian point of view, through our cricketer association (player union), it’s been a strong advocate of sorting out players lives after their cricket. I’m not sure what happens in the sub-continent. I know a lot of the cricketers have sorted out their next step.

For me personally, I came in to cricket knowing exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up. When I finish my cricket, I know now, that I absolutely have no idea what I want to be. I’ve kind of gone backwards. When I started cricket, I knew I wanted to work in my Ski & Snowboard company and run that. But now that I’ve gone through cricket, I don’t want to do tht any more. Lost the love for it and want to something else. I’m part way through a law degree and I don’t know whether I want to finish that. I’m writing a little bit here and there but I don’t know whether I want to do that. I’d love to get in to law but I am scared of the 70-hour weeks when you first finish law school and get in to the law profession, which a 25-year old without a family can afford to give. But with a young family, it is hard to do the 70-hour week and give away all that time when you want to spend time with the family. So, I don’t know if I want to finish that. I want to coach. I like coaching. I might get in to that, I don’t know. Lot of unknowns for me but I’m pretty well educated and I’ll find my feet in something. Most of the guys around me will also find their feet in something. These days, most of the guys have a pretty good grip on what they wanna do and have a pretty good progression mapped out for them.

SJ: Where is Saxophone in all this?

DN: {laughs]. I went to school and university playing saxophone. That’s what I wanted to do all through my high school. I went to the university for year after I finished high school in ’94 and it made me hate saxophone and I haven’t picked it up since. There’s been talk about me being a virtuoso or whatever.. may be, I was okay back then – I still have the saxophones but I haven’t picked them up in years. My kids may have heard me play saxophone 4 times, I reckon, and my boy is six years old. It shows you how little I’ve played.

SJ: Excellent! On that note, Dirk, Thanks so much for giving me the time. It was an absolute plaeasure and honor talking to you. Hope we get to see you on the field as soon as possible and Good Luck in the World Cup T20 tournament that’s coming up.

DN: Ha! If I play. May be we need to have some sort of big campaign to have me picked. That’s what we need.

SJ: You’re an absolute rock star on the social networks, I’m sure we can make it happen.

DN: Beautiful.

SJ: Alright, Thanks a lot mate.

DN: No problem. Pleasure.

SJ: Cheers!

[Download the episode here]

Episode transcribed by: Bharathram Pattabiraman