Nixon ready to take his chance

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It takes a big strong or slightly deranged man, or somebody who is just about to leave the England touring party to play a practical joke on Andrew Flintoff.

Matthew Hoggard qualifies for the first two, but it was probably the third option that provided him with the courage to cut the coloured adidas stripes off Flintoff's bowling boots when Michael Vaughan replaced him as England's captain.

To Hoggard, who is not a member of England's 16 man one-day squad, the removal of the stripes was symbolic, a fitting end to Flintoff's reign in charge. Fortunately, Flintoff saw the funny side of it and England supporters will be hoping that it is the first of many smiles for the all-rounder during the one-day series. The form of Flintoff without the pressures of captaincy will be monitored closely during matches against Australia and New Zealand, which began with a Twenty20 international against Ricky Ponting's side this morning. Another player who will be watched closely is Paul Nixon, England's 36-year-old wicket-keeper.

Nixon toured Sri Lanka and Pakistan with England as Alec Stewart's understudy in 2000-01, but is yet to make his international debut. During the Ashes Geraint Jones and Chris Read failed to impress with the bat but, even so, Nixon's selection came as a total surprise. He was not in the shadow squad that spent six weeks in Perth while the Ashes were still alive and England are meant to have several gifted young keepers playing county cricket.

Nixon owes his selection to his form with the bat with Leicestershire. The left-hander averaged almost 60 in first-class cricket last season and made important contributions in the shortened form of the game. And should he perform over the next month he would be the favourite to take the gloves in the World Cup in March.

"Being selected for the one-dayers is one of the best Christmas presents I have ever had," said Nixon at the Sydney Cricket Ground. " I am delighted to be part of a new, upbeat one-day squad. I'd be lying if I didn't say that the thought of playing in the World Cup is somewhere at the back of my mind, but for now it is all about doing well in Australia."

Nixon does not believe his advanced years are a problem. If anything he thinks they will work to his advantage. "I do not believe that age is an issue," he said. "I may be 36 but I'm as fit as anybody in the game and I still love playing. The wise old heads of Nixon, Jeremy Snape and Darren Maddy have done well in one-day cricket in England in the last couple of years, especially in Twenty20, and I think it is important to have a few calm heads around in these situations.

"Hopefully, my experience will help the team. I believe one-day cricket is all about roles. It is about people playing to their strengths. Michael Vaughan and Ian Bell are not six hitters, whereas Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff are. So it is important that players stick within their roles and try to take their egos out of the game. Players need to play with controlled aggression. One-day cricket is about taking options at the right time."

The volume of runs Nixon has scored will have impressed Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, as will his energy and bravado behind the stumps. He is not averse to the odd sledge and it will be interesting to see the response of the Australians to his antics. "I was fortunate to play with Steve Waugh when I was at Kent," Nixon said. "He used to talk about mental disintegration and I have always given and taken a bit. That's the game, and I admire the Aussies because they are generally the first guys to come and shake your hand at the end of a game.

"It's about strong characters, and whether it be in business or life strong characters get to the top. If there is something to be said at a certain time I will say it. The wicketkeeper has to remain positive and give out energy. He needs to let people know how well they are doing and create a feeling of calm. I know that I am better suited to the role of England wicketkeeper now than I was six years ago. I am a stronger person and I know my game a lot more."

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