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After more than 20 years on the county circuit, Paul Nixon is leaving the game on a high
August 29, 2011
You cannot keep Paul Nixon quiet. He had slept for barely two hours after Leicestershire won the Friends Life t20 championship for the third time. But there he was at his favourite Grace Road, dressed in a starched white full-sleeved shirt, dark blue denims, broad shouldered, lean, muscular, standing tall, speaking with a favourable disposition, animatedly to the camera.
For the next 90 minutes Nixon was invaded by the visiting Indian media, and the former England wicketkeeper obliged duly. When an English television network asked him to pretend he was reading the report on Leicestershire's overnight victory, Nixon immersed himself so deeply that he forgot he was meant to act. That is the thing, Nixon has always been a natural: passionate about his cricket, mad about keeping in shape.
"I have always enjoyed my fitness," Nixon says. "My dad always kept fit, still is a fit guy. I am actually a mad, crazy guy who has loved cricket. I liked rugby and cricket (growing up) and used to train for Leicester Tigers till a few years ago."
"I have one goal, be good at sport," Nixon adds. And to be good very early in his life he knew you had to stay fit. It helped that he had friends like Martin Johnson, the 2003 rugby World Cup-winning captain and England's current coach, to inspire, motivate and make sport exciting. So when Nixon became a wicketkeeper he already was ready for the ordeals.
"I have squatted over 24 years and the guys have worked out it would be 925,000 times," Nixon says. On t20 finals day on Saturday, Nixon completed "over 500 squats" in the warm-up and then the match. "People don't realise that. People go to the gym and do four sets of ten squats at a time. I did 500 yesterday plus sprints."
Nixon had played his part in grabbing the spectacular catch of Kieron Pollard, diving to his right like a frisbee, defying his 40 years of age. But then Nixon has always been known to disregard logic. He made his England debut at 36. He played his first World Cup at the same age. He is the only man who has been part of all three Leicestershire teams that won the t20 crowns in 2004, 2006 and this season.
Winning the Championship in 2006 when Leicester played 17 matches and won 10, playing for England and getting the cap from Michael Vaughan with the England team in the circle at the Gabba; playing in Australia and winning a series at 36; playing at the 2007 World Cup and having a good tournament averaging just under 40; and yesterday when Leicestershire won the Twenty20 Championship are the things Nixon will never forget. "The goodwill gestures I got yesterday shows it has been an amazing, amazing journey. I couldn't have dreamed of it."
He received 165 text messages till early afternoon, including praise from Vaughan and Andrew Strauss. But a note from the Indian great Rahul Dravid ("fantastic effort"), who was Nixon's teammate at Kent at the turn of the millennium, not only surprised Nixon, but also touched him. Nixon had played with Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman during the England A tour of India in 1993. It was his first time to India. He returned many times including playing in the rebel Indian Cricket League.
|I came into the game on a high ... I went to England on a high at 36. I went to the World Cup on a high. I left England on a high. And I finished on a high.|
With the advancing years Nixon's flame only grew bolder and brighter. Perhaps since he had waited such a long a time for things to happen to him, he always knew that when the time came he would be ready to leave the game without any regrets.
"I can't keep to the standards I want to keep to so then you start letting team-mates down. I'd rather go out of the game on a massive high. I came into the game on a high. It was an honour to come to Leicestershire. I went to England on a high at 36. I went to the World Cup on a high. I left England on a high. And I finished on a high. People say why I am retiring and not when you are retiring and the two are very different."
India's fielding coach, Trevor Penney, who played many years in county cricket against Nixon, recalls how "he gave every ounce of him to the team." Even from the outside it's clear ambiguity has never been part of Nixon's life. He understood his strengths and more than that his weaknesses. He did not let either take a grip on him.
Nixon had made up his mind at the beginning of this season that it would his farewell year. He understood that even if his head was willing to do things, his body was reluctant.
"When you know that you can't grow anymore because your body won't let you do it then it is time to go," he says. "My body is hurting now. I have squatted and worked hard for a long time. I have given it my everything. And now my feet are sore, my knees are torn, my calf pulls, my hips are tight, my back is sore, my neck is stiff, my hands ... you name it. Adrenaline is a great thing."
It is indeed. Nixon got to his home in Leicester at half-past five on Sunday morning. He relived the victory moments with his wife for half an hour. At ten past eight he was awake to play with his little daughter. Now he had to rush off now to meet a buyer as he was selling his house and moving closer to his daughter's school. It is clear Paul Nixon cannot stand still. He will be squatting for a many more years.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Nagraj Gollapudi
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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