Nixon settles down to the quiet life

Former England keeper hangs up his gloves after career beset by clinical inability to concentrate, writes Jon Culley

Leicestershire, bottom of Division Two in the County Championship, have known better times.

Yet things turned a little worse for them last week when Paul Nixon, one of cricket's authentic characters and their last link with the team that won the title twice during the 1990s, announced the end of his career.

The former England wicket-keeper from Cumbria who is known as Badger – as in "mad as a..." – made his last competitive appearance on his adopted home soil in front of a full house at Grace Road last night. It was the quarter-final of the Twenty20 Cup, a format in which Leicestershire are still reasonably effective, and it was against Kent, the other county for whom he played.

"I'm not daft enough to say I wouldn't go to finals day if we won, but I wanted to say goodbye in front of a big Leicestershire crowd, so I decided this would be it," he said.

Nixon, who turns 41 in October, retires with several distinctions. He played professional cricket in four decades, never missed a Leicestershire Twenty20 match and made his international debut – and played in a World Cup – at the age of 36.

"That's the proudest achievement," he said. "You enjoy winning trophies and we won two Championships here and the Twenty20 twice. But walking out for my England debut in Sydney in 2007, that was the greatest honour. I'd had no inkling it was coming until [the England captain] Michael Vaughan spoke to me at the end of the 2006 season and told me to stay off the weights for a couple of months and 'just keep cricket-fit because you never know'. I thought my time had gone but I'd had a good season and I must have played well a few times when the selectors were around."

The experience was not quite as he expected. "It sounds a bit crazy but I was more nervous practising than playing," he said. "In games you get in the zone but in practice it was all a bit surreal. The lads I was playing with, a lot of them I remembered as kids. The Twenty20 game came first and a lot of them had not played it much. I had experience and [the coach] Duncan Fletcher wanted me to tell them how to do it."

Vaughan and Fletcher liked Nixon's effervescent energy, believing the endless chatter for which he was renowned behind the stumps would lift team-mates and distract opponents. Steve Waugh, the former Australian captain with whom he would often share dinner when they both played for Kent, likened him to a mosquito he wanted to swat.

Given that sledging is almost in a wicketkeeper's job description, no one thought Nixon's behaviour particularly odd. Yet he now believes it was this inherent hyperactivity that perhaps denied him earlier recognition. After meeting a specialist in dyslexia and dyspraxia, two conditions often identified in people such as Nixon who do not take in information easily, he discovered that he had something not far removed from attention deficit disorder. The jabbering, the fidgeting, the inability to settle to a task: all were symptoms.

"At school I was never the fastest learner. I had a lot going on in my head and it continued into adulthood. A few years ago, if I was on the phone to you, I'd be tidying up some books, even trying to send a text message while I was talking. My mind would be constantly cluttered. You could ask me a question and halfway through answering I'd forget what it was.

"I'd be really random, impulsive. I would think, 'I've got to clean the car or I've got to cut the grass' and I'd do it. Whatever was in my mind, I'd just go and do it and it would be almost like I was in fast forward.

"Other times I would have this dull tiredness like a hangover when you can't get your head around anything. It definitely harmed my cricket over the first few years. I would be telling myself to concentrate yet I couldn't. The bowler could be running in and I'd be looking at field placings when I should have been concentrating only on the ball."

Tests revealed a problem with Nixon's eye movement, which is common in dyslexia. "My eye-tracking was good from far to close, which explains why I was a good goalkeeper and wicketkeeper, but not so good from side to side. Reading books always made me very tired."

The specialist, Wynford Dore, a self-taught former businessman who decided to put his energy and resources into curing his daughter's dyslexia, devised exercises for Nixon, both for his eyes and to stimulate his cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls movement and balance and is also implicated in dyslexia.

"Some were a bit bizarre, like trying to stay upright inside a moving box, or hopping on one leg with my eyes closed while reciting the two-times table. But almost as soon as I started them I felt a real calm and clarity of thought and I could concentrate for longer."

It was also typical of Nixon to embrace Dore's ideas. His mind, however cluttered, always welcomed new thinking, whether about the value of protein shakes or the potential of the reverse-sweep, which he practised so much it became, for him, almost an orthodox stroke. "Bikram yoga," he chirps, when I ask about the latest addition to the exercise regime that has helped him achieve his longevity. "I'd recommend it."

Yet eventually it had to end. "I worked out the other day I must have squatted behind the stumps about 900,000 times in my career and that takes a toll," he said. "I can feel my knees niggling just playing with my three-year-old daughter in the garden. When that happens, you start asking questions."

Paul Nixon's most memorable...

Innings: My first hundred against Hampshire at Grace Road in 1992. I was 96 overnight and had to face Malcolm Marshall in the first over next day. The first ball nearly cleaned me up and I played and missed the next five. But then Cardigan Connor fed me a nice leg-stump half-volley...

Shot: The one everyone remembers is the reverse sweep for six off Muttiah Muralitharan in the World Cup in Antigua in 2007. He hated me playing that shot.

Ball faced: The slower ball from Dwayne Bravo that bowled me against West Indies in Barbados.

Catch: In my first season at Leicestershire, diving at full stretch to catch Warwickshire's Dermot Reeve one-handed in front of David Gower at first slip and getting a big hug from Gower, who had been one of my boyhood heroes.

Team: The Leicestershire side that won the Championship in 1996, winning six matches by an innings. The cricket we played under James Whitaker was outstanding.

Moment: Walking out at Sydney, aged 36, to make my England debut against Australia in a Twenty20 international in January 2007.

Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appeal
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Ched Evans in action for Sheffield United in 2012
footballRonnie Moore says 'he's served his time and the boy wants to play football'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture