Growing up, Chris Nash could see Horsham cricket ground from his home. His mum used to give him four days off school each year to attend the festival there, reckoning it was more important than his studies. In 2005 he helped Horsham win the National Knockout Championship and five years later he scored 156 against Derbyshire on his home patch, fulfilling a boyhood dream.
Not that it’s all been plain sailing. Having been in the Sussex Academy and represented England at under 15 and 17 level, Nash’s progress stalled. “I hit a roadblock at 17 or 18 and didn’t get a deal,” he tells AOC. “Sussex said, ‘Why don’t you go off to university and we’ll have a look later’.” It proved a good move as Nash flourished under the guidance of former England seamer Graham Dilley at Loughborough. “It was big part of my development. I’d enjoyed myself for a year, didn’t make the first XI, then Graham said: ‘You either want to be a pro or you don’t’. So I knuckled down.”
Twin fifties against a Somerset attack featuring Andy Caddick convinced Nash he could make it as a pro and back at Hove the picture had changed. “Having debuted as an off-spinner batting at No.9 or 10, they identified me as someone who could open the batting. They gave me a contract for 2005 and I went off to Australia and basically learned how to bat. I owe Mooresy [Peter Moores], Grizz [Chris Adams] and Robbo [Mark Robinson, assistant to Moores and then head coach from 2006] a lot – for putting their heads together and signing me in the first place, and for thinking that down the line I could open the batting.”
These were Sussex’s glory years: five summers of Mushtaq Ahmed (457 wickets across those seasons) and three Championships the first in the club’s history – under the captaincy of Adams. “Grizz was inspirational,” says Nash. “He spoke brilliantly in the changing room. A real leader.” While having Mushtaq in the side meant, “that whatever we got, we always felt he would take the opposition out, whatever the pitch”.
Nash missed the 2003 title win but was part of the back-to-back victories in 2006 and 2007, by which time he had started to find his feet as a regular opener. In 2008 he made his maiden first-class hundred in a game for which he’d initially been dropped – “a huge turning point” – and ended the season receiving his county cap. The following year he amassed 1,298 Championship runs – more than any Englishman bar Trescothick and Ramprakash – as well as helping Sussex win the Twenty20 Cup and Pro40 League.
This was a bittersweet time, however. Sussex were relegated in the Championship and lost the FP Trophy final to Hampshire. Nash was picked for the England Performance Programme camp in South Africa that winter but broke his thumb early in the trip. “That was a real bummer,” he recalls. “I’d had a really good season, felt in a good place, and thought that if I could get on a Lions tour there’d hopefully be more. I was 26 and that was my time to push on and play for England. That was hard.”
Nash hasn’t been able to make that step up to the senior team since but he remains one of the most reliable players on the county circuit. In 2012 he was named in the FTI Team of the Year for all his all-round contributions across all formats. “It’s nice to be considered a good county player who contributes in all forms and you do look at the PCA MVPs. Generally speaking, in the last six or seven years I’ve been in the top 10, which is something to be proud of.”
Sussex suffered relegation last year but are strong favourites to return to the Championship’s top tier at the first time of asking. Even through the tough times, Nash says the club has retained its cosy, family feel. “It’s where I see the same faces I have done for 25 years when I walk through the gates,” he says. “It’s where I’ve been all my life, and it’s where I want to be in the future.”