Rob Nicol learns to pace himself to stay fresh
A series of "away" seasons on the trot nearly broke Rob Nicol.
The softly-spoken, hard-hitting New Zealand opening batsman had just had his first taste of international cricket in 2010. While most assumed he was on top of the world, proudly wearing a Silver Fern for the first time, it was one of the toughest moments of a career that had cruised along from the end of 2001 before taking off in the last two years.
He was mentally fatigued, worried about messing up his brief international career and simply not enjoying cricket.
He'd just completed his first season in Christchurch having moved from the Auckland Aces to the Canterbury Wizards and it all became too much. "That was like an English off-season, it was like another away season for me," he said.
Just when he needed a break, he was selected to represent New Zealand at the T20 World Cup.
Part of him was rapt to be considered good enough, the other half was more worried about the pressure.
He didn't get a run in the tournament, but made his international debut in Florida against Sri Lanka on the way home.
On a tough batting track in the southeast of the United States, Nicol scored 10 and 0 and was axed from the national side for 17 months.
"I've given it a lot of thought," he said.
"It really bothered me at first and it festered in my mind but in hindsight it wasn't the [low and slow] tracks or my form, it was where I was at mentally. I was rooted."
The World Cup, he said, had made the mental fatigue even worse.
He'd tried so hard to impress and felt he needed to train even harder because he wasn't playing.
Nicol then went to Britain for another northern hemisphere summer before deciding enough was enough a month later.
A "very friendly gaffer" in Britain let him come home and cricket went on the back burner.
"I was just shattered," he said. "So I took a self-sabbatical. I came home and didn't do anything. The cricket bag stayed in the back of the garage for the whole three months before I came back to Christchurch."
He's since had two more impressive seasons with Canterbury, is enjoying cricket again and has been recalled to the New Zealand T20 team.
He also made the ODI side where he became the second Kiwi to score a century on debut and was then chosen to open in the test side.
He's cleverer now and keeps himself fresh, he said.
He feels more comfortable in the Black Caps environment which equates to less self-imposed pressure.
While he keeps himself fresh, he's still piling on the work in the off-season before he and the New Zealand T20 and ODI sides head to the West Indies on June 24.
Nicol, who now lives back in Auckland, has been working closely with Canterbury coach Bob Carter at New Zealand Cricket's High Performance Centre at Lincoln and hosting Carter in Auckland too.
Short, sharp training sessions with batting specialist Carter have kept Nicol on the straight and narrow training-wise.
"It's great," he said.
"I struggle in the off-season.
"If I'm slugging away by myself day after day, I find it doesn't help my game and it's draining.
"Doing this keeps it fresh and Bob is a good sounding board."
Part of Nicol's relaxed approach includes no goal setting and keeping his mental plan as simple as possible.
Sure, he's thought of the T20 World Cup this year and playing a far bigger part than he did in the West Indies two years ago but he's the epitome of a one ball at a time guy.
That's the most important thing and that's what he has to be ready for, he said.
His theory is if he starts getting ahead of himself and worrying about goals and long term, firstly he can miss out on what's right in front of him and secondly if he falls short of those goals or even starts too, he can be guilty of heaping pressure on himself.
The "in the moment" mentality is something that really came to fruition since moving from Auckland to Canterbury.
His game, especially in the shorter forms, has come on in leaps and bounds.
While his brief foray in test cricket this past summer was unsuccessful, he's now a permanent fixture in both the ODI and T20 sides.
And as for the future?
"Who knows mate, whatever will be will be."