Nixon relishes roaring forties
The Leicestershire boardroom is an apt setting to discuss Paul Nixon's career.
Wisdens dating back to 1920 occupy the bookshelf to our right. A photo of the 1996 championship-winning team takes pride of place on the wall behind us. James Taylor, Leicestershire's bright young thing, faces the Sky TV cameras on the balcony.
It seems the perfect snapshot of Leicestershire's past and future, and Nixon features heavily in both.
His name graces the pages of an entire shelf of Wisdens, and there is a definite sense of nostalgia in the air as he speaks to ecb.co.uk about a career entering its 23rd season.
At 40, Nixon is the third oldest cricketer on the county circuit. While the longevity of Mark Ramprakash, 42, and Robert Croft, who turns 41 next month, is to be applauded, neither has spent the best part of a quarter of a century, in Nixon's words, “doing 1,000 squats a day”.
Such is the wicketkeeper's lot, and it is testament to Nixon's fitness, professionalism and enduring love of the game that he remains a key figure on and off the pitch at Grace Road.
Although a knee operation - his fifth - just two weeks ago means he was absent from the teamsheet for Leicestershire’s opening LV= County Championship game against Glamorgan starting today, he is sure to play a prominent role this summer.
Wicketkeeping duties, in all but t20 cricket, were passed to Tom New last season, which Nixon admits could well have have been his last as a player.
"I would have considered jacking it in if things hadn't gone well," he tells ecb.co.uk.
A more than commendable 915 championship runs at an average of 35.19 - in conditions made tougher by new regulations limiting the use of the heavy roller, Nixon points out - persuaded him otherwise and earned him a one-year contract extension.
Had he retired, he could have looked back with justifiable satisfaction on a career that included two championship titles, in 1996 and 1998, a successful England tour of Australia and a World Cup, not to mention countless fond memories.
"I played for England - that's what it's about," he says in a matter-of-fact fashion which betrays his Cumbrian roots. "There aren't many people who made their debut at 36.
"The nice thing for me was I went to Australia and we won the one-day series in 2006-07, then I averaged 40 with the bat at the World Cup.
"That was a dream. I went into England on a high and finished on a high, so I'm very proud of what I've done."
Nixon is currently in his second spell with Leicestershire, having spent three years at Kent before returning in 2003 to the county where he began his career as long ago as 1989.
"It's crazy to think that I've played in four decades," he admits, before casting his mind back to the trial match that helped win him his first professional deal following six weeks on the Lord's groundstaff.
"I was 18 and had grown up on a farm. I came down to Grace Road and it was Allan Donald's trial game for Warwickshire.
"I turn up, the first ball I see is Russell Cobb, our batsman, two feet in the air. He gloves it in front of his face and Keith Piper takes the catch standing 30 yards back.
"Five minutes later it was like a parachute jumping out of the dressing room, but I got 35 and 38." Leicestershire had seen enough.
If Donald inadvertently played a part in Nixon's entry into the first-class arena, he was also responsible for wrecking what Nixon saw as his greatest chance to break through into the England Test side.
"It was 1995 and I'd had a good winter with England A in India and Bangladesh," he recalls. "I was playing for England A against the champions of the previous summer, Warwickshire.
"I was 50 not out when Donald smashed my thumb and put me out for six weeks. I believed that was going to be my time."
Unfortunate that his career coincided with those of Alec Stewart and Jack Russell - "two legends of the game", Nixon never played a Test. "It's all about timing," he adds.
There is no trace of disappointment or desire for sympathy in his words, for that is not Nixon's style.
Moving on has never been a problem for a man whose boyhood ambition was to play for his beloved Carlisle United. A central midfielder with a "good engine", he got as far as the reserves, and is now content to cheer them on from the stands, most recently in Sunday's Johnstone's Paint Trophy final win at Wembley.
Exceptionally fit and an assiduous trainer, Nixon established a reputation as one of the most reliable - and combative - wicketkeepers on the circuit, although he still regards himself as "a batsman who keeps". There are many specialist batsmen who would be content with 14,401 first-class runs at 34.70 in 351 games.
Perhaps the greatest tribute to Nixon as a player is the manner in which he embraced Twenty20 cricket, which proved to be the perfect vehicle for this resourceful left-hander. There remain few better exponents of the reverse-sweep in the county game.
Whether behind or in front of the stumps, he was central to Leicestershire's Twenty20 Cup triumphs in 2004 and 2006 and no-one played more Friends Provident t20 games last year - in addition to being an ever-present in the championship.
He is still in good enough shape to train with Leicester Tigers during the winter, and, as Nixon describes the intricacies of using an Alter G running machine (effectively a state-of-the-art treadmill that creates a sense of weightlessness to minimise the impact on the knees), it is impossible to accuse him of not moving with the times.
The past clearly means a lot to Nixon, be it bringing the cows in to milk or snagging turnips during his childhood, or his early Leicestershire days under David Gower's captaincy.
He has nothing but the highest praise for the 1996 team. “An outstanding side," he says. "Alan Mullally, David Millns, Gordon Parsons, Vince Wells, Aftab Habib, Ben Smith, well led by James Whitaker. They were great days. Great days.”
However, he insists the "spirit we have now is equal to that", referring to a dressing room led by the likeable Matthew Hoggard and containing a host of talented and, crucially, homegrown young players, chief among them James Taylor and Nathan Buck.
"This squad is a special little unit," he claims. "It's a bit like Scholes, Beckham, the Nevilles at Manchester United. These lads are great mates; they live with each other.
"We've got something special and that's why I think we'll go up this year."
It raises the obvious question, which Nixon starts to answer before it is completed: "If we get promoted... if I average 35-40... if the body keeps going... then why not?"