Couch Talk 158 (Play)
Guest: Dion Nash
Host: Subash Jayaraman
Subash Jayaraman (SJ)– Welcome to the show, Dion!
Dion Nash (DN)– Thank you very much!
SJ– Thanks for being on it is my pleasure having you on.
Since the Cricket World Cup 2015 is on, and the Black Caps are doing quite well, let’s start the interview right there. Would you say the group of players that Brendon McCullum has in his disposal right now the best group of players to play for New Zealand?
DN– Yes. There has been a lot of talk, and a bit of scrutiny. On paper, and on recent form there is a strong argument. I think the reality is to wait and see how they do in the end. Certainly, Looking at it, my feeling is that the team that has been sent tot he world cup is on the hot form. I think in addition to being in hot form, as a group, it is well led by Brendon, and the bowling attack is good. In addition to that, they are the best balanced side. We seem to bat a long way down, some real aggression. The experience of the batting is good. I just feel that it is a good side. but, let’s see how they go.
SJ– Would you still judge them by how the tournament ends? New Zealand has been in the Quarter finals and Semi finals plenty of times, never been to a finals and of course never won it. Still, you reserve your judgment on this team till the tournament ends.
DN– There is no doubt that they are playing a nice style of cricket. And, definitely they are catching the imagination of the public in NZ. Regardless of what they do, if we don’t make the finals, we will have a sense of not having gotten quite as far as we should have. There is a bit of pressure there which we have felt before. Regardless of where they end up – obviously we want them to win it, it will be unbelievable and probably the only mainstay nation that hasn’t won it and is well overdue – they have captured the imagination of the public. Cricket is a very popular sport in NZ, which is great. Ultimately, they will be judged on where they end up in the tournament. But, as far as cricket in this country is concerned, we have already won.
SJ– Regarding the capturing of people’s imagination in NZ, the last time a Kiwi team did that was in 1992 under Martin Crowe. Would you say, comparing that team in 1992 to this team in 2015, this one is overall better in terms of basic skills?
DN– I just would restrain from comparing any era. I think that if you look at the top batsmen in the world then, they averaged 45. The top batsmen now average mid-50s and 60s. Are the batsmen any better or have the conditions and situations changed? My gut feeling is that the generation, the players and batsmen are of the same level. The bowling – there are going to be great bowlers in every generation; and great batters in every generation. But, if you take the whole thing, it is unfair to compare on statistics or end results because you are not comparing apples with apples. You look at the great players of Martin Crowe’s time and the great players today, and brought it forward, I can guarantee that they average exactly the same.
Right now, the best I can say about this is that it is beautifully balanced. We appear to have a good bowling attack that works together; we have spin options and pace options. The batting looks like we have an aggressive top order and some stability throughout and a good finishing group. Arguably, we probably had been better at different times going into other things. The difference being, right now, in the last 6-8 months this team has run into good streak of form, with McCullum guiding that form with the magic wand. That is the magic. That is why we are excited. We have had teams having a hot streak, the teams that I played in the late 1999 had a great streak of form. But it was immediately after the World Cup. How long did those last? The timing is just so good right now. As I said, the style with which they are playing is exciting people, we and the country genuinely feel chuffed.
SJ– We talked about Brendon McCullum, and his style of captaincy. You played under the leadership of Stephen Fleming, who is considered a masterful tactician who did his best to bring out the best in his resources. How would you characterise Brendon McCullum’s character, how would you compare his style of captaincy with Fleming’s?
DN– Stephen had some fantastic players. The thing has been said a lot about, I am bringing out the best of what he had. He had some of the the best talent in his era. Whenever you come across changing something, or a team evolves, you point to someone or something as the ignition of that. i think Stephen did a great job; and if you look at the people he had, the performances of the people under him, it was always about a group of leaders and performances. It is the same thing said here about Brendon McCullum. He has really got some guys who can play now, come together with form.
If you ask to compare him with Stephen Fleming’s captaincy, I think they are quite different. Brendon McCullum wears his heart on his sleeve. Some of his field placement have appeared to be quite brilliant. Stephen was a lot more measured. At times, he probably played from out of a formula than instincts, and that worked as well. But, they were quite different captains. What we are seeing right now is exciting to watch. Probably, the test will be when Brendon gets placed under pressure, and his captaincy is put under pressure. Stephen Fleming was good under pressure. His style was great under pressure. So, there are pros and cons for each one.
SJ– You had an opportunity to lead NZ when Fleming was down with injury in the 1998/99 home series vs South Africa. People credit you for being an aggressive captain. I want to hear your philosophies about what you expect from a cricket team’s captain.
DN– Again, I think each person is on their own. I like watching the way Brendon McCullum captained, he is very interactive with his bowlers, it feels like he is really progressive and trying to change the game. At the same time, he is thoughtful and is watching it. I very much like his style. There is a lot made of it. at the end of the day, captaincy is not brain surgery, it is putting pressure on the opposition. The only way he can is by trying to stay ahead of the game. In a way, the captain can be a standout, but at the same time the players under him need to play well, perform and do the job. You can set any field you want but if the bowling and fielding unit are not up to the job, then you are not going to make it and you are going to look foolish. Brendon McCullum is looking like a genius right now because he took two sharp catchers on the off side and has nearly taken another wicket but the reality is not only that he is setting the field but the bowlers are responding and the catchers are responding and doing a job that they all talked about. it is a combination of captaincy and the performances of the team – at times a good captain makes the team look good and sometimes a great captain can be made to look bad by a bad team. It is all of those things, together.
SJ– We talked about this earlier, about NZ having a good track record in the Cricket World Cups. You were a part of two of them – in 1996 where NZ lost to Australia in the Quarter finals in Chennai and in 1999 in the Semi final to Pakistan. First, I want to get your memories from the 1996 World Cup on how it panned out for NZ.
DN– In 1996 World Cup, I was very young and it was a time when I wasn’t very mature as a player and I think that was the same for a number of players in the group. So, that was one of the ones where we tried our hearts off. We were trying to win it for NZ. But, I don’t remember being particularly organized for that World Cup, or in particularly good form. It was more like, “hey, let’s see how far we can get.” And that is sort of how it worked out.
I remember the excitement; it was my first World Cup. It felt like I was playing well, but I don’t remember us going in with a team of thoughts and collective consciousness of how we were going to win that World Cup. Then, we got to the Quarter finals and lost. Probably that was far how he deserved to get.
The next one was the one where we were in a better frame of mind. We beat Australia at Cardiff in Wales. I got us off to a great start. We really played some wonderful cricket in that tournament. it was a tough because it was very early in the UK summer. The ball was swinging around a little. it wasn’t high scoring. We lost in the Semi finals. I just remember looking back after the game, watching Pakistan get beaten in the finals by Australia and ruing a lost opportunity. I thought we were a much better side and we probably didn’t have the belief in ourselves about how good we could be. After that, that World Cup had a life changing series in England when we beat England for the first time when NZ had been there. The period immediately after that, we really came out as a cricket side. After 6 months from the World Cup, we really got on with the performances and the belief. As it was, we got knocked over from the Semis and that was the end of that.
SJ– I want to go back to the 1996 World Cup. You mentioned about how disorganized you were as a team going into the World Cup, and not really expecting. Was it an extension of that, that you had Lee Germon as the captain – fresh face comes in and takes over the captaincy of the team. Was that a left-field choice for the selectors to install him as the captain and things, your performances, came from that?
DN– Well, that was definitely a time for change. But, I don’t blame Lee Germon, i felt he was a very good captain, actually. Technically, he was equal of anyone I have played with and under. He was a fantastic reader of the game. there was some debate over Adam Parore not ‘keeping anymore and him taking over the gloves. But, ultimately I thought Lee did a great job. The fact is, he had a group of guys who were all young and we didn’t have senior players together like you want before a big tournament. There was a little bit of that. In-fighting might be a strong word, but we weren’t getting along or gelling. And then you had some of us younger ones who had our ears pierced and thought we were superstars. It was a difficult thing for anyone to do – whoever was the captain of that side. The whole group needs to take responsibility for that time, that goes from the coach and management to the players and the captain right up to the New Zealand Cricket itself. You have to have everything aligned, all the blocks in place coming into the tournament. You can still potentially win if you don’t but you have to have a few things coming your way with a bit of luck and some star players.
SJ– In that Quarter finals against Australia, Lee scores 89 and Chris Harris plays one of the defining innings of the tournament, with 130. You had Mark Waugh then coming in at no.3 and basically taking your attack apart, and then Australia win by 6 wickets. At the middle of the match, when NZ had put on 286, you must have thought you were in with a very good chance?
DN– We thought we had won it. There was a point in the match when we thought we had won it. In reality, the turning point was, and unfortunately I look at my part as well, was when Shane Warne got brought up the order and was sent to have a good old fashioned tonk. I dropped a difficult catch, it was dewy and at night. I dropped a low catch running around the boundary. I dropped him in the dark. He went on to get 25, and that got them going. Little moments like that – had I taken that catch, maybe it was the end of the match. Or maybe we could have gone close. So many buts and maybes that you look at. Australia, the one thing I have learnt about them, you haven’t beaten them until you bowl the last wicket out or run the winning runs. They are just never going to give in. It’s a wonderful quality, and we nearly saw that on Sunday (in Auckland vs NZ), didn’t we? You can never count them out.
SJ– Moving forward to that 1999 World Cup. You had said that as a team you had hit form after the World Cup, but you still made it to the Semi finals. Once again, you run into Saeed Anwar in that Semi finals. 241 in challenging conditions, in Old Trafford – did you think that you had a chance again because it is Pakistan and anything can happen?
DN– To be honest with you, we blew that match. I think were 30 or 40 short, which we should have got. As it turned out, 30 runs would have won it. our bowling was a little bit unprepared. Whether it was the big occasion or whatever, it was the worst game of the tournament for all bowlers collectively. We just didn’t have the zing and sting that we had in the games previous to it. Pakistan played well, they took it away from us. if you really look at what comes out of the belief of the group, you have to believe and visualise that you are going to take and hold that trophy up. And perhaps it would come down to that. we had settled and perhaps we missed a little bit of belief to take us all the way, which could have taken us through that match. That is the difference. You come to the thing about this side – 2015 – I believe that the belief is there. the current side is in the best form of any NZ team that I have seen go to a World Cup. I also look at the opposition sides around the world, and perhaps with the exemption of South Africa who have celebrated senior players – all the other teams, if you line them up against the NZ side, they are roughly the same average age, with same number of games played. They should go toe to toe with other sides. That means a lot. When I first started, we played against some of the Australian sides and the average age of our guys would be, say, 25 and theirs would be 30. That was always playing in.
SJ– I want to talk briefly about your career as well. You had a good start at Lord’s. 11-fer, career best. But it ended in a draw. Then, you took your best innings figure at Mohali, a 6-fer. That too ended in a draw. I am assuming that there was a lot of disappointment that despite your efforts, two very good overseas wins did not happen.
DN– You know, they were both memorably occasions, personally. Like you mentioned, neither of them ended in a win. For me, the best tour I recall was our England tour in 1999because we won that series. At Lords I only got 4 wicket sin the match but felt like my best bowling in my career. Likewise, at Oval I might have picked up 6 or 7 wickets in the match, and they were 4 crucial wickets in the second innings that took us over the line. The skidding across the line, winning in England makes it the special one. I think, when I look back at my career, I am proud of it.
Ultimately, I had so many injuries. If I had taken it a bit more seriously at that time, I might have avoided them. I didn’t know, times were a bit different back then. All I wanted to do was play cricket. I was 23 when I took a contract in England at Middlesex. I have never played 6-days’ cricket in my life and all of a sudden here i play 6 months, every day of the week. Six months. In hindsight it was too much, blowing up my back and I really didn’t recover from that. I would like to think of them as lessons, and now, the bowlers are very patient with the rotation policy and teams are resting players and just the level of fitness that the guys are getting now are greater than the ones in my days. it is a bit of relief that you can look at them and say that hopefully we can learn some lessons from me and improve upon it.
SJ– I will take up a couple of listener questions. A lot of listeners sent in this question – Sachin Tendulkar mentioned that you are one the bowlers that he always struggled against. He found it hard to cope against you. What was it that you think allowed you to get the better of him, more often than not?
DN– Well, first thing, I never felt like he got the better of me. i don’t think anyone got the better of Sachin Tendulkar. To me, Sachin Tendulkar, along with Brain Lara, they were the clinical players of my era. You couldn’t as a fast bowler get excited about bowling when those two guys are facing, I don’t think you are ready. That was the pinnacle of my experiences to bowl to guys like Sachin and Brian. And, even more so when it was in their conditions because you are never really in and then you bowl to a guy like that. You can look good in your home conditions, but you have to go to their home ground and if you can trouble them in their conditions then you earn their respect. I think Sachin was probably the most gifted right hander that I have bowled to, and Lara the most gifted left hander. Unlike anyone, they want a break, they let a few balls go and then they want a freebie. The discipline I found against those guys- you had to be relentless and absolutely on point every delivery and you had to be hitting the top of the bat and swing it away or do something different. If they get even a mediocre delivery, the chances were that they were going over your head or through the covers or through point. Doing that gave them the chance to get off strike or release the pressure, and you have to start again. You need to have the attention to detail, you had to be bowling at a good clip and you had to be swinging it a bit because if you don’t get hold of those three things, they will dominate you. If you did all three, sometimes that helps.
SJ– There is another question, form another listener, Siva. He asks you if it is true that there was a brief period after your injuries when you tried to make a comeback purely as a batsman?
DN– There was. What happened was that I saw a back-surgeon in NZ. I was 23-24 years of age when I had a back injury. I saw a back-surgeon, and he told me that my career was over. And so, being 24, and listening to a medical expert, you tend to believe them. I was obviously devastated. For 6 months, I didn’t know what to do. i had this injury, and I thought literally that my career was over. And then, what happened was a lady who my mother had heard doing Pilates on the radio, and itcan give you core strength. I went and visited her and she started help me get healed. I still didn’t think I would even bowl again, but what I decided was that I will go and get some cricket and I felt that at that age group I was as good as any other batters that I had played with, and that I could have a go at batting.
But then, what happened was that I only got half a season. I tried bowling in the nets, and I found that I could bowl and I guess I have always wanted to be an all-rounder. The moment I found that I could bowl again, I probably took that and ran with it. Having said that, I came back a much better batsman after my injury because I had made the decision that I was going to try and bat.
SJ– Lastly, this is a listener question as well, form Aashish – about how you dealt a career ending injury when you had just turned 30.
DN– Look, I will be a liar if I said I didn’t have the odd night when I wake up and have some water and think about it. It is always one of those things – you can’t go through life without regrets. I look now, and I am really proud of what I have achieved and how I have played, once I realised that I had a finite career. In the end, I won’t be the only bowler to go through and played with injury. Even the fans and your teammates and even your parents, sometimes they don’t see the injury, the mental side of what you had to go through when you play with injury. In a way, it was a relief to retire early. It is a disappointing. Mentally, my best years were still remaining – the next five or six – you don’t get to cash in and improve your figures and achieve things. At the same time, I think you can just take it for what it was and thank God and say that you got to bowl to Sachin Tendulkar, and play in the era against some really great cricketers – Waqar Younis, Wasim Akram, Alan Donald, (Shaun) Pollock, the Waugh Brothers, Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath. It was a great era to be a part of. To have got in and got out and battled amongst those great guys was a real privilege. On the one hand, I am really, really lucky and blessed to have had a crack; and on the other hand, you know you missed out a little bit because you had injuries.You weigh it up and you will just be grateful for what you got.
On that fantastic note, thank you so much for being on the show. It was an absolute pleasure talking to you.
DN– No problem, it was a pleasure! Hope this World Cup continues to be as exciting as it has been so far!
SJ– Absolutely, mate! Cheers!
DN– Thank you!
Episode Transcribed by Bharathram Pattabiraman