THERE are little bits of Nelson’s history all over their famous Seedhill ground, reminders, if ever you needed them, of their glory days.
The polished mahogany board, inside the welcoming pavilion, is etched with a cast of cricket noble men, who had proudly worn the Nelson badge of honour.
Sir Learie Constantine, who won the Lancashire League eight times in his 10 seasons there – an unparalleled sequence – and broke the ground attendance record at every ground in the competition.
Then there was the mighty West Indians Collis King and Larry Gomes, Pakistan’s demon swing bowler Safraz Nawaz, Kapil Dev, who led India to the 1983 World Cup, and that most obdurate but dazzling master craftsman, Australian Steve Waugh.
“When I looked at those names for the first time it was very intimidating, you know, and I thought, ‘Blimey. I hope I don’t let them down,” said Canning.
“They are greats of the game aren’t they?
“I was a 29-year-old South African nicknamed Plank when I came to Nelson, but in a way it spurred me on, listening to people talking about those legends.
“It has given me an extra drive to set a new goal. I’ve definitely grown as a cricketer since I’ve come to Nelson.”
So much so that Canning, born and bred in Cape Town and who learned his trade on the tough tracks of South Africa, has decided to make Lancashire his home for the foreseeable future.
“I’m quitting first class cricket back home and coming to live in England,” he revealed.
“I’ve got an ancestral passport – my grandfather was English – and it is something I’ve thought about for a long time.
“I want to test myself again, open a new chapter in my life.
“I met a nice girl, Trish, when I was over last summer and we really like each other.
“This is a big decision, but I want to put my roots down over here.
“I like the idea of coaching and I’d love to play county cricket. It is still possible. Why not?
“Many players from this league have gone on to play for a county.
“My dream of playing for South Africa has gone, but there are many things I’d still like to achieve in cricket.”
We sit and chat in his favourite haunt – Turner’s Coffee Shop on Barrowford High Street – and people are genuinely glad to see him out and about in the village.
Canning, a wicketkeeper by trade, talks enthusiastically about the new league campaign and his hopes for 2014 as Nelson prepare to open up the season against East Lancashire at Seedhill tomorrow.
Canning is good company.
He has a sharp mind and a playful sense of humour.
“The lads gave me a bit of ribbing for my bowling last season and that’s certainly something I need to improve.
“I bowled seam up and realised that wasn’t the best idea. I only got six wickets, so it was a bit of a standing joke in the dressing room.
“I’ve been practicing hard on my off-spinners over the winter and it’s coming out of the hand nicely.”
It was a different story when he was at the crease, though, as Canning fell just 69 short of a 1,000 runs in his maiden Lancashire League season, and with 10 half centuries and an average of close to 50, it provided the foundation stone for Nelson’s creditable seventh place finish last term.
“My target is a 1,000 runs, but I accept it could be much harder this season – the second one always is.
“I’m a rhythm batter, and it took time for me to get going last season when it was a bit damp early on.”
It could, Canning accepts, be a season of transition for Nelson, with batting stalwart David Crotty having moved into the Ribblesdale League as professional of Earby.
“Crotts is a big loss, you can’t hide that,” added the pro.
“But there’s some terrific young talent here, Harrison Phelan and Tyler McGladdery, and lads like Russell and Lewis Bradley are terrific competitors.
“There’s no reason why we can’t challenge for a top five position.”
Canning was born into cricket.
He toured Pakistan with South Africa’s Cricket Academy alongside fast man Morne Morkel and modelled his batting on Jacques Kallis.
“I understand my own game a lot more now,” he added.
“I’ve played the best cricket of my career in the last couple of years.
“I have a lot more control and I like to keep things simple.
“As a kid that fear of failure perhaps held me back. You have those insecurities as a youngster don’t you?
“Then I thought too much about the game.
“I perhaps doubted myself and when I lost my contract with the Cape Cobras that made me re-assess where I was at in my career.
“It was a big wake-up call.”
The wicketkeeper they had signed, subsequently broke his ankle before the start of the season and Canning took his fresh opportunity with both hands.
“I averaged 50 with the bat and was part of the team that won the domestic four day competition. You never know in life do you?
“I’ve come back hungrier than ever and desperate to help Nelson improve.
“We won our last four league games of 2013, so let’s see if we can carry that form on this time.”