Nash toughs out move to earn a Test place with land of his father
The first white man to play for the West Indies in 36 years had a hard battle to win over the doubters. Matt Gatward reports
Saturday 31 January 2009
If Kevin Pietersen was at all concerned about how he would be received by team-mates in the England dressing room post-"Mooresgate", maybe the deposed national captain should spare a thought for a player he is likely to encounter during the current Caribbean tour. That man is Brendan Nash, an unlikely face in the West Indian team because, when he made his Test debut against New Zealand in December, he became the first white man since Geoffrey Greenidge in 1973 to play for the West Indies.
Nash was born in Perth in 1977 just two months after his father Paul, a keen swimmer who represented Jamaica at the 1968 Olympics, and mother, Andrea, emigrated to Western Australia. His cricketing education came on the opposite coast where he made his way into grade cricket by 2000 with Queensland to become a steady, if unspectacular left-handed middle-order bat and gentle seamer. His moment in the Queensland sun came in the 2001-02 Pura Cup final when a knock of 96 against Tasmania led his state to the title.
However, the runs dried up and the contract ran out and in early 2007 Nash was not so much at crossroads as a dead end. The land of his father beckoned. "For cricket and personal reasons I decided to pack up and leave Australia and move to Jamaica, for a change of lifestyle as well," Nash said. "My parents were very strong with their Jamaican heritage and their culture, so I guess I wanted to experience that as well as give some of what I had learnt playing in Australia back to Jamaican cricket."
Nash did, indeed, make his way to Jamaica and into their squad by October 2007, but, rather than give back what he learnt, he learnt that the fans were on his back. "I guess when I first arrived the Jamaican people weren't so understanding of what has happened," he said. "It was a bit unusual. The reception I got from the local crowd was probably not that great. [He was met by shouts of abuse from the stands during trial matches]. I was always asked what would happen if I took the spot of a young Jamaican player. I am taking the spot of a younger player, but hopefully that younger player can learn from me and maybe take things that I do on to his game to make him a better cricketer.
"I had to break down a few barriers," he added, "and I think once the Jamaican people realised that I wasn't there just for myself they let down their guards a bit and welcomed me a little bit more."
Nash's attempts to win over the doubters were helped by his vital role in Jamaica's domestic one-day victory as he smashed 117 in the KFC Cup final against Trinidad & Tobago. Also instrumental in the newcomer's acceptance was Chris Gayle, Jamaica's captain, who described Nash as a "complete cricketer".
Slowly, the radio phone-ins stopped and Nash began to find his feet. A first-class average of nearly 47 alerted the national selectors. Indeed, there was some surprise when Nash was overlooked for the home Test series against the country of his birth early last year. Of course, for a country so steeped in political and racial issues, the possibility of Nash's rising to West Indian Test level was a hot topic in the Caribbean. Jamaica was one thing but the West Indies?
The white man's involvement with West Indian cricket evokes memories of a bygone era, most of them painful for natives of the islands. Prior to the Sixties, with the West Indies under British colonial rule, white players in the international side were the norm, and the captaincy, in particular, was seen as a white man's job. To widespread disgust, many a great black player featured for the West Indies under the leadership of less talented white men. As C L R James writes in Beyond a Boundary, regarding the visit of Australia in 1954: "[Three of West Indian cricket's greatest players] Weekes, Walcott and Worrell were led by the inexperienced [and white Denis] Atkinson. After 50 years of it... I still am unable to understand how people can do these things." Thanks to the political campaigning of James, the West Indies – after a heavy Test defeat against Pakistan in which their skipper was their only white player – finally appointed Frank Worrell as their first black captain for the tour of Australia in 1960.
For some, though, it was not the colour of Nash's skin that grated; they questioned his ability and his advancing years. But finally, after one of the most circuitous journeys in international cricket history, the call came and in November Nash was selected for the West Indies one-day squad that was due to play in a Tri-Nations series with Bermuda and Canada. Batting in the middle order, he impressed and he was selected for the Test squad to tour New Zealand where he made his debut last month to become the first Australian-born cricketer to play for the West Indies. "I will feel good for the selectors who showed faith in me," he said prior to his first cap. "Because of my colour and background, they copped a lot of criticism when I was first chosen [for the squad]." After two Tests, and a top score of 74 and 100-plus run partnerships with Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Gayle, Nash has made a successful – if unusual – impact on Test cricket. "An impressive start and an excellent debut series," as the Windies coach, John Dyson, put it.
"My mother was the cricket follower when my parents met and married," Nash said. "She was supporting the West Indies from Australia so it was a dream come true for her to see her one and only son play for the mighty West Indies."
His second series beckons – and he is highly likely to be in the team for the first Test starting in Kingston on Wednesday as the all-rounder Dwayne Bravo is injured – and another capable display could one day lead to him taking on the Aussies. Strangely, though, it won't be the first time he's shared the field with the Australian Test team: he was used as a substitute fielder at The Gabba back in 2005. The opponents? Yep, the West Indies.
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