REBEL, WITH A CAUSE

He may have given up the game, but for­mer cricket hero Dion Nash still has a lot to say, writes Sarah Daniell

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - CONTENTS - PIC­TURES BY DEAN PUR­CELL

At the end of the long drive­way lead­ing from a coun­try road to a farm­house, there is a let­ter­box. Sit­ting on top of the let­ter­box, alone, swing­ing his legs, is a small boy, wait­ing. Wait­ing for a team. “I think I still do that,” says Dion Nash, for­mer New Zealand cricket player.

He does, says Ber­nice Mene, for­mer New Zealand net­baller, his wife and mother of his three chil­dren. “He still tries to rally all the lo­cal kids.”

“When we were dat­ing, we’d be driv­ing some­where and he’d say ‘stop!’ if he saw some kids play­ing cricket at a park, and he’d get out and play with them.

“Then he’d bowl full speed at them and hit the bat out of their hands and I’d be like. ‘Do you think you over­did it?’ and he’d say, ‘Oh nah, they re­ally love it when I do that’.”

Nash, the all-rounder whose name is en­graved on the hon­ours board at that hal­lowed ground, Lords, strides into a cen­tral Auck­land cafe. He wears a hat. He shaves his head. He or­ders green tea and water. “I’ve had three cof­fees to­day.” He smiles with his whole face, which has the scrubbed look of a man with few re­grets and who swears by a rig­or­ous groom­ing rou­tine (his own brand Tri­umph & Dis­as­ter — in­spired by the Rud­yard Ki­pling poem, If).

We are meant to talk prod­uct. But the con­ver­sa­tional equiv­a­lent of a 20-20 match rolls into epic test pro­por­tions. We cover cos­met­ics, cricket, cannabis, cop­ing skills, com­pe­ti­tion,

and Cairns. That’s for­mer Black Cap team­mate Chris Cairns, who was cleared of match-fix­ing two years ago. But more on that later.

On cos­met­ics: Tri­umph & Dis­as­ter (founded in 2011, of which Nash is man­ag­ing di­rec­tor) was once for men only and is now for any­one.

“I think that the op­por­tu­nity to cre­ate a uni­sex brand is a greater story for right now. I think the vi­sion of men and women is sort of un­healthy. There’s a lack of con­fi­dence with that. If you have to have ‘man’ writ­ten on some­thing to know it’s a great prod­uct. I don’t want my­self or my sons to be de­fined by some kind of mas­culin­ity stamp.”

On age­ing (which is, let’s face it, equal parts tri­umph and dis­as­ter): “Much of the beauty in­dus­try is based on fear. Fear of get­ting old. Fear of a wrin­kle. Fear of this, fear of that. You are not pro­mot­ing health when you’re pro­mot­ing fear.” He frowns. Is there a prod­uct for that?

On cannabis: “I think I made it out of Dar­gav­ille be­ing one of the only kids in my era [who hadn’t smoked] pot. So the irony is all my mates from up north go­ing, ‘oh my god, the straight­est guy from Dar­gav­ille gets pinged’.”

Nash is re­fer­ring to his sus­pen­sion for smok­ing pot with fel­low Black Caps Stephen Flem­ing and Matthew Hart in South Africa in 1993-94. He said he “sim­u­lated” smok­ing pot. “I sort of re­gret say­ing that. I think Stephen Flem­ing was best — he just copped it. Same with Matthew. But it’s not in my na­ture to go down with­out tak­ing a swing.

“There’s a long story be­hind all of that. One of the things I’m proud­est of is how I and Matthew and Stephen held our­selves through all of that be­cause there were a whole bunch of peo­ple in­volved but three of us got hung out to dry.

“So I will al­ways re­spect those guys in­tensely. They stood by me and I stood by them and we’ve held our own.

“In the end, out of frus­tra­tion I said, I sim­u­lated it … it was a stupid thing to say. My in­ter­nal di­a­logue was, ‘F*** you, guys.’”

He smoked it at univer­sity. Doesn’t now. “I liked be­ing a rebel.” But for the self-de­scribed up­start crick­eter, pot wasn’t even close to the most po­tent mind-mender of all.

“In­tense adu­la­tion is the best drug you can ever have but it’s also full of re­ally bad, toxic things. Those things can and do af­fect you.

“Guys in that en­vi­ron­ment get put in po­si­tions that most peo­ple would never ever get put in, you know.

“Ev­ery­one wants to give you ev­ery­thing and wants to be near you and want to be as­so­ci­ated with you — that’s an in­cred­i­bly tempt­ing en­vi­ron­ment.

“I feel like we need to sup­port our play­ers bet­ter. Also un­der­stand­ing the cul­ture of a whole lot of young, com­pet­i­tive guys in a small en­vi­ron­ment. It’s an in­tense space. Ev­ery player’s ego, mana and stature, is on the line.”

THE SMALL boy who hit cricket balls with a bat against the garage was born into a medium-size team — a Catholic fam­ily of eight on a farm with a sawmill. Six sib­lings who were all much older, which meant Nash was raised much like an only child. He read Lone­some Dove by Larry McMurtry — themes: cow­boys, Old West, mas­culin­ity.

No mat­ter what you as­pire to be, he says, you can’t help but be a small-town boy when you grow up in a town like Dar­gav­ille.

He as­pired to play cricket and he would get there, via Auck­land Boys’ Gram­mar. At 16 he left home for board­ing school.

“I call it my fin­ish­ing school. That sort of set me on my way. All the kids in my class were aim­ing to go to univer­sity. Not that kids up north weren’t — but there wasn’t the ex­pec­ta­tion that ev­ery­one in your class would go on to ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion.”

Nash, whose test ca­reer spanned between 1992 and 2001, be­longed to an elite group of highly tal­ented play­ers in, ar­guably the sem­i­nal era, the dawn of pro­fes­sion­al­ism.

“It’s noth­ing com­pared with to­day — they’re earn­ing mil­lions of dol­lars a year. Back then if we earned $50,000 a year we thought we were rich.”

Pro­fes­sional sports­men — in teams — may be wealth­ier, and more en­light­ened about the ben­e­fits of yoga, Pi­lates and cleans­ing and mois­tur­is­ing. But they still need a code of be­hav­iour.

“You get a bunch of young guys to­gether in a com­pet­i­tive en­vi­ron­ment,” says Nash, “and an el­e­ment of renown, or fame and a bit of money and it’s the per­fect cock­tail for some­thing to go com­pletely wrong.” “I was one of those once,” he says. At that level, the play­ers are away for two to three months at a time. “You’re liv­ing with 20 guys — ev­ery sin­gle mo­ment of ev­ery day is com­pet­ing over who is the top dog.

“Peo­ple say it shouldn’t be like that. But it is just like that. It’s what young males are like. But what it needs is a re­lease valve. And it needs cop­ing strate­gies and strong man­age­ment. It also needs an el­e­ment of un­der­stand­ing that even with all of those good things in place, it still will go wrong.”

“HE DOESN’T want his chil­dren to be marked by the tra­di­tional def­i­ni­tion of mas­culin­ity,” says Mene, on the phone.

“But he has passed on some of the tra­di­tions of his fa­ther. You can hear the echo of it around the ta­ble. Our 7-year-old won’t be able to leave the ta­ble be­cause there are starv­ing chil­dren in the world. This hap­pened the other night. It was not like it was leeks or tripe. It was a chicken burger.”

You could say Mene and Nash are a power cou­ple. They wouldn’t. “You’re kind of acutely aware of the pres­sures peo­ple put on the chil­dren, though — do they love sport? In­dia loves play­ing the piano, and [singer] Peter Ur­lich said to me, ‘Ah, that’s in­ter­est­ing, like she’s a throw­back or some­thing.’”

With their chil­dren, Solomon, 11, Jett, 7, and In­dia, 9, Nash and Mene goof off, play at the park near their Grey Lynn home, form a team.

“Dion and I want them to find the thing they ab­so­lutely love.”

When Mene met Nash, they were both at their peak of their sport­ing ca­reers.

“I was liv­ing in In­ver­cargill and he was in Auck­land … be­cause we were both play­ing sport and, you know, the de­mands of in­ter­na­tional sport and all those pres­sures ... you un­der­stand.

“Pos­si­bly sports­peo­ple are wired dif­fer­ently. But we got each other.” They mar­ried in 2003.

“We’re very com­pet­i­tive and de­ter­mined. But we have other sim­i­lar quirky traits as well … [sotto voce] ‘Do you write poetry? I write poetry too!’ But don’t put that down be­cause he’ll prob­a­bly kill me.”

“IF YOU asked me,” says Nash, “what I would like mas­culin­ity to mean, to me and my sons —

In­tense adu­la­tion is the best drug you can ever have but it’s also full of re­ally bad, toxic things. Those things can and do af­fect you. Dion Nash

it would be to be con­fi­dent in them­selves and be open-minded and think for them­selves and to be proud of be­ing male. But I wouldn’t want them to feel that they need to ex­press that in any way that wasn’t nat­u­ral to them.

“It all comes down to un­der­stand­ing that you ma­ture into mas­culin­ity — un­der­stand­ing your phys­i­cal strength and that that is not akin to men­tal or emo­tional strength.

“It’s un­der­stand­ing your sex­ual im­pulses but know­ing that’s dif­fer­ent to ac­tion. And know­ing how to speak to women, or the el­derly, and how to be­have.

“Your self-es­teem and con­fi­dence is core to it all — male or fe­male. Be­ing ful­filled, stim­u­lated men­tally. If you go search­ing for mas­culin­ity else­where, you can get it wrong.”

Nash reached his pin­na­cle in 1994. He was the first player in his­tory to take 10 wick­ets and score 50 runs in a match at the “home of cricket” — Lords — in 1994.

Is that achieve­ment a kind of bank of happiness that he can re­turn to and dip into?

“It is a de­posit of happiness. But there’s also a whole bunch of re­gret that sneaks up on you. Like, I didn’t achieve all I could have achieved. Ei­ther through in­jury but also through

[Test cricket] is men­tal. You’re fac­ing a guy who could po­ten­tially kill you with a ball, for two hours. 20/20 — to me is like cheap take­away food. It’s not even good take­away food.

im­ma­tu­rity. I don’t think I was ready to have a ca­reer — I feel very proud of how I played the game and the ef­fect I had on the teams I was in. But ev­ery­one has re­grets. Ev­ery­body. It doesn’t mat­ter if you are Roger Fed­erer — on the sur­face he has achieved ev­ery­thing. But Fed­erer will have re­grets. Things he didn’t do.

“You can re­flect and dip into the pools of happiness — the things you did do. I can prob­a­bly say that now I’m 45. But as a young sportsman you are not aware of your real abil­ity. That’s the sort of zen mo­ment. you nat­u­rally slip into this space with­out think­ing about it.

“Zen is a lit­tle scary when you are young. It’s too calm. It’s too still.”

On cricket: “I don’t think I love the pro­fes­sional game any­more.

“The real game is test cricket. The short games aren’t. Peo­ple who don’t know the game will prob­a­bly strug­gle to com­pre­hend that. But the game is men­tal. It’s a test. You’re fac­ing a guy who could po­ten­tially kill you with a ball, for two hours. When that’s short­ened down to six balls and have short­ened bound­aries it changes it. You are tak­ing away one of the mas­sive chal­lenges of the game.

“I think that 20/20 — to me is like cheap take­away food. It’s not even good take­away food.

“I love the ab­so­lute ex­treme point where you pitch your­self against some­one else, mo­ments that you were fac­ing Alan Don­ald or you were bowl­ing to Sachin Ten­dulkar, with 50,000 peo­ple look­ing on and it was just you and them.

On com­pe­ti­tion and cop­ing: “Sport is a win or lose sit­u­a­tion. You only have to watch a bunch of kids in a school­yard to know there’s a com­pe­ti­tion. We haven’t taught kids to deal with win­ning or los­ing.

“Just be­cause you won doesn’t mean you’re a hero. It just means you played well to­day. And just be­cause you lost doesn’t mean you’re a loser — it just means you’ve got room for im­prove­ment and to­mor­row’s an­other day. And that’s how you get bet­ter.

“It’s easy to say this in a sports en­vi­ron­ment — but you see it ev­ery­where — in ev­ery en­vi­ron­ment — just look at In­sta­gram — it re­minds me of the cool kids at school who iso­lated all the other kids. It’s all of those kids on steroids.

“In­sta­gram is a hy­per-com­pet­i­tive en­vi­ron­ment. They’re load­ing this stuff up to the sky but who are th­ese peo­ple? They are fraud­u­lent, false ideals of a su­per, su­per de­sen­si­tised ver­sion of what happiness is and what value and wealth is.

“It’s like, f***, that is so dan­ger­ous. We have to teach peo­ple cop­ing strate­gies so they can iden­tify that as un­real. It should al­ways be a tool. It’s not. We are the tools.”

HIS GREAT­EST strength? “He’s su­per-pas­sion­ate,” says Mene. “He wears his heart on his sleeve. He’s al­ways work­ing on him­self. He’s a great dad. He will try and think of the lit­tle things to help … He’s a de­tails per­son.”

Our great­est strength, says Nash, is “when you’re meet­ing out there some­where rather than slip­ping back in­side.

“All of the good stuff hap­pens when you have a sim­ple con­ver­sa­tion with an­other per­son. That’s when re­ally fruit­ful stuff hap­pens.”

“That’s life — it’s all of busi­ness — all of sport — it’s be­ing a fa­ther and a hus­band. All of that stuff. “You never can play the per­fect game. “Part of walk­ing away, like I did with cricket, is you learn to un­der­stand that. And live with it.”

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