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Hit or Miss

The fascinating Mr Nannes

The joys of watching a player who doesn't make cricket seem like a sacrifice

Tishani Doshi
Dirk Nannes is congratulated for Herschelle Gibbs' wicket, Deccan Chargers v Delhi Daredevils, IPL, Centurion, April 30, 2009

Cricket is not the mainstay of Dirk Nannes' life  •  Getty Images

One of the most exciting players to emerge from this season's IPL for me has been Dirk Nannes. I've enjoyed watching him play for a variety of reasons. The most obvious one, of course, is that he's a lethal fast bowler who seems to carry a sense of disbelief about his own talent. The second is that his energy is infectious, and when the Daredevils choose to sit him out, as they did in last night's game against the Challengers, there's a bit of a lacklustre feel to the entire squad.
What's really attractive about Nannes, though, is his story. From the bits and pieces I've been able to scrounge up from various internet sources, he's had a rather unconventional relationship with cricket. For most people playing at this level, I imagine cricket has been the mainstay of their lives from a very young age. Nannes only made his first-class debut when he was 29, which is, let's face it, a dinosaur in the world of sport. It's not that cricket wasn't on his agenda earlier - there were just other things he wanted to do. We're told he plays the saxophone, speaks smatterings of Japanese, and skiied for Australia. The fact that he does all this and still bowls the way he does, well, it's pretty genius isn't it?
Perhaps not. I talked about the idea of "genius" spirit in one of my earlier pieces, and I later read an interesting article in the New York Times that kind of refuted that whole theory. David Brooks suggests that it's not IQ or any kind of genetic hard-wired code that separates geniuses from mortals, in actual fact; it's something far more mundane - practice. About 10,000 hours of it to start with. Obviously, you need to have some propensity towards the talent you're pursuing, but he claims that the brain can be trained to break down skills into tiny parts, and by repeating these actions you force the brain to internalise a better pattern of performance. So as long as you can focus for long periods of time, and have someone guiding you, you could be the next Tiger Woods. Hmm.
I suppose he has a point. Children with ambitious parents do tend to be higher achievers, although sometimes they go off the rails in rebellion. I've always empathised with those kids. We had two of them in my class, the sports kids. When we were growing up those kids always missed out. They never came to birthdays or class outings because they were cramming to make up for missed classes, or were busy out on the field. To my knowledge, neither made it "big", and I always wondered what it must be for them, later in life, to carry this notion that they sacrificed their entire childhood and adolescence, chasing a dream that never materialised.
Because of course, the central notion in this pursuit of excellence is sacrifice. To succeed you need to practise, which means you need to put everything else second: friendships, other interests, plain old vegetating, all of it. Because extraordinary people do not have the time or inclination to aspire to normal lives. That's fine. But it also means that at the end of the day, you may end up with a slightly monochromatic, one-dimensional view of the world.
Not Dirk Nannes. That's what I find particularly enchanting about him. Because that notion of sacrifice isn't palpable. You get the sense that he has a natural affinity for sport, that he's taken some chances, and explored different avenues. You can call it luck, openness to life, whatever. He's landed himself a gig in the IPL and is now making a name for himself. I imagine that even without all of this he'd be pretty content with his achievements, but it's wonderful to see someone who has followed his instincts, travelled his own path and found some measure of success. Who knows, maybe he's practised for 10,000 hours in the nets just like the rest of the guys. I guess that just means he never sleeps.

Tishani Doshi is a writer and dancer based in Chennai