Cricket: Kiwis need a revitalising dash of Nash

The New Zealand all-rounder is in the form of his life and returns to Lord's tomorrow hoping to revive his side's Test fortunes against England.

ONE OF the greatest insults of modern times is to be considered dull and boring. Even in cricket, where being boring, especially among batsmen, was occasionally something to be admired - Geoff Boycott based an entire career on it - the term is not one you would want to be stuck with. Unfortunately for New Zealand it has clung fast almost since their induction into Test cricket 70 years ago.

For Dion Nash, the New Zealand vice-captain, the charge appears to be somewhat wide of the mark. An all-rounder, Nash is currently enjoying some of the best form of his life, with career bests in both batting (135) and bowling (7 for 39) in the recent match with Hampshire. These were followed by a dashing 66 against Kent at the weekend and he comes to Lord's for tomorrow's second Test in a dangerous - almost Bothamesque - mood.

"We need to put this series on the map," Nash said after practice yesterday. "In order to get the public's interest up we need to win the next Test and that's what we've been working on.

"We were disappointed the way things turned out at Edgbaston. Collapsing in the second innings there swung things so drastically England's way, it was hard to come back. Still we can take some positives and apart from bowling well, we did manage to score 226 on a difficult pitch."

Off the field Nash, especially in his younger days, was none too conformist, either. On a particularly riotous tour of South Africa in 1994-95, he and two team-mates, Stephen Fleming and Matthew Harte, were caught smoking cannabis at a barbecue. Instead of being sent home they were suspended mid-tour for three matches.

If it was a moment he would rather forget, it has not been without its benefits. By being men enough to own up to the charge, he and Fleming, the current captain, now find themselves at the helm, their careers maturing rather than going up in a puff of smoke.

The incident, which surprised many of his acquaintances, was sandwiched between Nash's first tour of England in 1994 and his 18-month absence from the game due to a back injury in 1996. On that tour of England, Nash, now 28, almost bowled his team to victory at Lord's.

As England clung on for dear life on the last day, Nash finished the drawn match with figures of 11 for 165, the third best in history after Bob Massie and Sonny Ramadhin. Once again Lord's had bestowed its benevolence on a visitor rather than one of its own.

"I don't remember being particularly fired up for it," Nash said yesterday, in response to the perennial question of why Father Time and his hallowed surrounds tend to inspire opponents rather than hosts. "Mind you, looking back on it, I probably was keyed up for it but just didn't realise it at the time.

"The home of cricket is a fantastic place to play and when I was growing up in Auckland, I always dreamed of playing there. Most players who tour will only get one or two chances to play a Test there. England get more opportunity, which may be why it's different for them."

According to Angus Fraser, a colleague during the Kiwi's stint in county cricket, Nash feels that his feat at Lord's was as much a burden as an achievement, in that it suddenly raised public expectation of him.

Certainly it got Middlesex interested in him - no mean feat for a county used to employing big names - and they signed him for two seasons as their overseas player, one of which had to be aborted when he injured his back.

"The attraction to me was a combination of Lord's and London. Middlesex are one of the best counties around and I was encouraged by my first season, which I really enjoyed."

The feeling was reciprocated and Fraser remembers a "top lad" with a serious side who also wanted to sample life. "He was far more mature than Middlesex players of the same age," recalls Fraser. "But then so was Jacques Kallis, our overseas pro in 1997. They just seem more worldly than our lot."

Apparently Nash, along with fast bowler Richard Johnson, used to clear the Middlesex changing-room when they went out to bat, their duels against fast bowlers and bouncers the cause of endless hilarity. Fraser, in the Cricketers' Who's Who, listed the confrontations under his "Relaxations", though many would claim that was a bit rich, coming from the man who perished to the up-periscope-prod more often than most.

A graduate in History and Sociology from the University of Otago, the injury - a burst disc was finally diagnosed - kept him out for 18 months.

"Suddenly my cricket career looked over and the reality of a nine-to- five job became almost too much to bear."

It was that realisation which forced him to give the game another go and it was while preparing to bowl again using the Pilates method of stabilising the lower trunk - also employed by Michael Atherton and Jason Gillespie - that he was able to devote more time to his batting.

If he has lost a yard of pace with the ball, his batting has improved to the point where New Zealand's lower order, with Chris Cairns and Adam Parore at No 6, and Nash at No 8, look more dangerous than their top five. On song, the trio are anything but boring and England will do well to be on their guard against them over the next few days.

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