The skier who became a Twenty20 mogul

Fast bowler Nannes 'just kind of fell into the game' and doesn't know the secret of his success – but it's working

What is the key to sporting excellence? Luck and natural talent? Or just sheer hard work? It is a question with which scientists, psychoanalysts and sportswriters continue to grapple. Examining the debate in a new book (Bounce: How Champions Are Made), journalist Matthew Syed argues for the latter, essentially supporting the observation once made by the golfer Arnold Palmer (borrowed later by Gary Player) that "the more I practise, the luckier I get".

With those words in mind, you wonder what Syed would make of Dirk Nannes, the Australian cricketer. As a youngster growing up, he had no ambition to play and has never been inclined to work on his skills. Yet his excellence is beyond doubt. As the English Twenty20 season begins this week, he joins Nottinghamshire as the world's most successful bowler in the shortest form of the game, needing only two more wickets to be the first to reach 100.

He has won two Twenty20 titles with Victoria and one with Middlesex in 2008, played in an Indian Premier League semi-final with Delhi Daredevils, helped the Holland team (he has Dutch parents) stun England in the 2009 World Twenty20 and, most recently, reached the 2010 final with Australia, losing to England but finishing as the tournament's leading wicket-taker with 14.

Yet he can offer no explanation as to how it has come about, although any study of the Nannes back-story would need to take account of the somewhat unconventional route his career has followed and the way it has shaped his outlook.

He did not have a professional contract until he was almost 30. Previously he was a competitive skier, contesting World Cup events around the globe and narrowly missing selection for the 1998 Winter Olympics. He lives in Mount Buller, 1,800m above Melbourne in the Australian Alps, and runs a ski travel company with his wife, Erin.

"It's a bit bemusing sometimes," he said, the inquiry prompting a shrug of the shoulders and a puzzled look. "I never really wanted to be a cricketer. I was rubbish at school, Third XI standard. Certainly, nobody ever suggested it could be a career.

"What I really wanted to be was a sax player. Then I started to be pretty good at skiing and wanted to be a skier. I spent my early twenties going around the world competing at mogul skiing and I just kind of fell into cricket when I stopped.

"Maybe it was when I grew up and my body started to mature and I began to bowl fast. When I was about 27 someone said, 'How about you don't go skiing this year because you might play for Victoria'. It was only then that I twigged I might play at a decent level."

With one convention demolished, the focused upbringing, the conversation turns to practice. "I like to keep bowling but that doesn't mean 20 overs in a day," he said [he retired from four-day cricket this year, anxious not to overtax his body]. I like to bowl a couple of times a week. I do need that to keep the radar tuned. But I don't tend to bowl eight overs in the nets and I never bowl the day before a game unless I get told I have to. I think in the World Cup I didn't bowl a ball in the nets during the whole tournament."

Nor does he think much about opponents or tactics. "The more I play, the less I care about what the opposition might have done. I know that if I bowl a great ball it will get any batsman out. I don't feel a lot of pressure in cricket, and that maybe helps. Because I have a lot of other things going on, I don't think about it too much. When I finish a game I just forget about it.

"That is a good thing and a bad thing. Because I don't think about it, I don't know a lot about cricket. But I'm not sitting around stewing on a result. When I walk into my house, it doesn't matter whether we won or lost, I'm still the same."

Otherwise, he says, there is not much to analyse. "My tactics are simple. I bowl straight and I try to bowl as fast as I can. I throw in the odd slower ball but I don't have a lot of tricks that other bowlers have. I'd like to learn a few different things but I suppose what I do now works and if it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Six of the best

Brendon McCullum (Sussex)

Kiwi big-hitter's 158no for Kolkata Knight Riders in 2008 remains the world-record T20 score. Hit 116no against Australia earlier this year.

Brad Hodge (Leicestershire)

Still going strong at 35, the Australian is T20's leading run-scorer with 2,646 runs, including a century and 19 fifties.

Albie Morkel (Durham)

Perhaps the best all-rounder in T20, the South African has hit 88 sixes left-handed and taken 93 wickets bowling right-arm medium-fast.

Ross Taylor (Durham)

The aggressive New Zealand top-order batsman has struck more sixes (124) than any other batsman in T20.

David Hussey (Nottinghamshire)

The Aussie batsman is second only to Hodge in runs scored (2,628) and to Taylor in sixes hit (122). Also has 35 wickets bowling off-spin.

Loots Bosman (Derbyshire)

A shrewd signing by the Midlands county, Bosman stunned England by hitting 94 off 44 balls for South Africa last November.

Jon Culley

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
News
Jermain Defoe got loads of custard
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition
Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born