Hanging out with Lou Vincent

By Michele Hewitson

Lou Vincent said yes so readily to an interview, I couldn't quite believe it. Sports stars never say yes, just like that.

Afterwards I thought his wife might have paid him to do it, to get him out of her hair for a bit. He just about drove me around the twist and I only had an hour with him.

He is meeting us at a cafe in Helensville. He is not in the West Indies playing in the Cricket World Cup because a Shane Bond delivery broke his wrist during a practice session in Antigua.

He seems pretty relaxed about his enforced holiday and he's loving being at home with his wife and their 1-year-old daughter, hanging out in the country in Kaukapakapa where he does God knows what. Kills goats, he says (he's had three and they've all died; he doesn't know why) and going about in the nude. That second bit (perhaps the first, too) is presumably a joke but I wouldn't put it past him.

It's the simple life. "Very, very simple. The pig eats our scraps and then we'll eat it in a year's time." He plays his music; experiments mixing House and 60s stuff and "having my own party. No one else would want to come".

He is also enjoying, in an odd way, watching the cricket from his couch, with a beer. He watches in an analytical way - "how people present themselves, how they look.

You feel you can pick up weaknesses in them and you can work out a strategy of trying to unsettle them. I felt like a coach".

So, being Vincent, he got on the email to the actual coach, John Bracewell, and said "here's some ideas on getting Kevin Pietersen out, and all these top players. And Bracewell emailed back saying: Thanks. Keep enjoying your holiday, son.

"Ha ha ha. No, he didn't. I'm exaggerating."

I bet he felt like emailing "mind your own business, son" but if he did, Vincent probably wouldn't tell me.

He might have once. The cricket media people get very nervous about him because he's known for saying things "and people cringe". Now he is just "trying to lay low and get on with the business."

And he and Bracewell get on well, he says, despite that little misunderstanding last year when Vincent was dropped after he apparently expressed a desire to bat in the middle order rather then open.

Vincent said he had simply expressed a preference. He's not now, he says, "going to indulge in that too much. It was a disappointing time in my life and my career took a bit of a kicking".

He says he much admires Bracewell and "I take my hat off to him because there have been times when I didn't like what he was doing and what he saw was, I think, the bigger picture. He knew what he was doing to get this team mentally prepared to take on the world cup".

And he realised this when? "When he fricking picked me and I could pay the mortgage again!"

So it must have been a terrible disappointment to have his career back on track, to be picked, then bang, he was on his way home. He knew immediately that that was it for his tour and he kicked his bat down the wicket.

When he saw the x-rays, "that was when, yeah, it was a bit emotional for a while". He didn't cry, though. I would have thought anyone would.

"Oh, I sucked it in."

Perhaps that is not the sort of question you're allowed to ask male sports stars, although he didn't seem to mind. He also didn't seem to mind my saying I thought all top-level cricket players were weird. He obviously thought about this, though, because he calls back and leaves a message.

It is quite a clever message. He's realised, he says, that it's my style of interviewing that is weird, which makes other people seem weird. "So, in fact, I think you are the weird one. Ha ha ha."

Yes, tricky. He does, as he points out, now have months to fill in so he can do lots of thinking about all sorts of things. Which will be nice for his poor wife, who he says "puts up with a lot. I never really stop".

You can see that. Actually, you can almost see the workings of whatever strange process is going on inside his head. He's a strange mix of hyper and laid back.

"I think my body and my mind are completely different."

The hyper bit is his mind. He is always organising projects, "round the house or on our piece of land up north. I'm constantly going over things and making sure that everything's sort of structured. But I'm such a mess as well, like I don't fold my clothes".

The very least you could say about Vincent is that he is always interesting. I hope he had a bit of fun during our hour. He certainly had some sport, talking nonsense and going off on mad tangents. This was all quite deliberate, a good ploy.

He likes the idea, or likes putting about the idea, that nobody quite knows him. Which is a reasonable enough desire for somebody whose career highs and lows have been lived out in the public eye since his early 20s. "I'm the hillbilly who lives in the sticks that nobody knows."

We agree that the best and possibly only thing to write about him is: "That cricketer, Lou Vincent, whoever he is."

Whoever he is, he came up with the most ludicrous segue I've witnessed in an interview. He took an admittedly convoluted question about the perils or otherwise of early success and turned it into a 10-minute story about how some wood-seller had done him for 20 bucks. The short version is that Vincent went to buy wood, asked how much for a trailer load, the guy said $50 and Vincent thought, "mmm, okay, and I started stacking the timber, piece by piece. Most people just throw the timber on the back of the trailer, but I've got three months on my hands, so I stacked the timber". For an hour and a half.

After which the guy came back and said that you get more timber that way. "And he charged me 70 bucks and I got sort of stumped, so I paid him. And then you said something that triggered a word in my mind and that got me thinking. I'm going to go back there and try to get my 20 bucks back. Thanks for reminding me."

I have listened to the tape and there is no possible word that triggered anything to do with wood or stacking or any part of this tale. There is much, much more of it but the conclusion is that I say he'll never go back and ask for his 20 bucks and he says he will (or that he'll get up at 6am and go and pinch the guy's Herald out of his letterbox for two weeks to make up the money.)

After the interview, he says in the message, he did go to get his money back and the guy was closed, so it cost him another 20 bucks in petrol. "So, he's done me again."

You can make what you will of that. I'm not saying another word about the vagaries of cricket players. Without comment, though, I will tell you that he once, in India, went to a meditation resort and went into a "ginormous pyramid" where hundreds of people were meditating. He is very enthusiastic about this, but who knows whether he meditated or not because, "oh, I don't know what I did".

I also don't know whether this was life-changing in any way; he seems more interested than converted. What he got out of it, though, was, "Oh, I think that now I've got an open mind to anything in the world. I'm not fazed by either the great things that happen to me, or the really bad things".

He has had some sort of life-changing experience somewhere along the way. "You find a nice little English girl and you settle down with her." That might well be a large part of the simple answer.

He is certainly more contented than he was. He used to get terribly wound up and nervous because he was riddled with self-doubt. This made him "tentative. And as a batsman you can get yourself into trouble".

It affected everything in his life.

"You doubt where you're going, you doubt the way you shave in the morning and even the way you talk to people. Looking back on my past, I think that when you are out of form I attribute it to how I am in my life. I guess it was a reflection of the way I was playing my cricket, you know, I was inconsistent."

He thinks that after having gone to high school in Australia and returning home when he was 18 he came back thinking like an Australian, which was a bit too over-confident, a little too large for self-effacing New Zealanders. So he tried to fit in, to make himself smaller. "Yeah, which is dangerous, isn't it? Which is changing yourself to please other people."

He's stopped worrying about what other people think of him and now he is happy with the decisions he's made because he's made them for himself.

He has mentors, one in particular, whom he won't name and won't tell me what he does for "privacy reasons", whom he sees maybe once a year for guidance.

"Oh, he might be, he might not be" some sort of therapist.

After seeing Vincent, the photographer asked what sort of picture would be right. Smiling? Thoughtful? I said I had no idea, and I still don't. Did he happen to have one of the inside of Vincent's head? That's the picture I'd really be interested in seeing.

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