Once upon a time, Ashish Diwansingh Nehra, was the pick of the Indian pace bowlers even ahead of Zaheer Khan.
But he was plagued by injuries and inconsistency throughout his career.
Some would even term him India’s Bruce Reid.
Reid turned out in Australian colours in a total of 27 Tests bagging 113 wickets at an impressive average of 24.63.
Nehra played 17 Tests for India bagging 44 wickets at 42.40.
One would have imagined that you had seen the last of the lanky Delhi left-armer since he was left out of the Indian side post the 2011 World Cup victory.
But, no, the fast bowler is back in the selector’s scheme of things selected for the T20 side for the ongoing tour of Australia.
Zaheer Khan and Virender Sehwag may have called it a day.
But the comeback man soldiers on.
Nehra performed exceedingly well in IPL 8 securing 22 wickets in 16 games at an average of 20 with an economy rate of 7.2.
“I was surprised when they weren’t picking me for the last two-three years to be honest. Better late than never, hopefully I can do well, I am just working hard. If I go to Australia and play the World T20 and deliver, people will say ‘Oh he should have been there earlier.’ If I don’t, people will say, ‘It was right that they didn’t pick him!’ That’s how it works in India. Whatever is gone is gone, I am just looking forward and hopefully everything will go my way.
I have always worked hard to play international cricket. Once you have been there, you know how much pleasure you get playing for India. There were times when it was very difficult for me to motivate myself, despite not being picked, to go to the gym or ground and train. It was difficult. Age is just a number for me. If you can keep yourself fit, you can keep playing.”
Perhaps, it’s the on-off nature of his career that has ensured his longevity. And the fact that he opted out from playing Test cricket a long time ago to preserve his body.
“Some people really want match practice, I am among those who wants a lot of practice. Most of the time I like to practice in open nets, so I get the same kind of feeling. If I am bowling well in the nets or to a single wicket, I get that confidence, that’s how I have been playing for the last seven-eight years, this is not the first time I will be doing it.
People say T20 is a young man’s game, all those theories I don’t believe in. You have to be on top of your game, especially as a bowler and the kind of job I do, bowling two-three of the first six overs and one or two in the last four. In the sub-continent or outside also these days, wickets will be flat. You have to be physically fit and mentally strong, especially as a bowler. It’s a fast game but I have been playing IPL, and that’s a big boost. The intensity is as good as international cricket.”
Nehra hopes to be a mentor to the younger crop of bowlers, a role performed earlier by his partner-in-arms Zaheer Khan to perfection.
Maybe the selectors felt the need for his wise head in the camp given that Ishant Sharma has yet to fully deliver on his promise since his debut in 2008.
“This is a short tour, but whatever little I can help the youngsters, I will. If I can play till the World T20, I will definitely look at that job, I have done it for CSK and I really enjoyed it. Most of the bowlers have different strengths, but you can’t buy experience.
I made my debut 17 years ago. In the sub-continent, somebody like me, who has had so many injuries, undergone 10-12 surgeries, still standing there and playing the fastest format of all, it has taught me something which I can pass on to the youngsters and give my experience.”
Does Nehra regret giving up Test cricket?
“My biggest regret is that I couldn’t play too many Tests because of my injuries. I played my last Test match some 11 years back. I was 25. In 2009-10, Gary Kirsten and MS Dhoni asked me to play Test cricket but that point of my time I was not sure about my body. I look back now and I regret it. I should have said ‘yes’ because couple of years ago, when I was 34, I played six four-day games for Delhi in six weeks. I could have easily done it in 2009, I was than just 30.”
Harbhajan Singh , the Turbanator, another ageing player returning once again to the Indian side, supported Nehra.
“Ashish Nehra has been a match-winner for India…..Just check the scorebooks as to how many matches Nehra has won for the . He played a big part during the 2003 World Cup in South Africa and he was our unsung hero in the 2011 World Cup campaign.”
There’s a twist in this tale.
Nehra is considered good enough to represent Team India and his IPL side Chennai Super Kings (under suspension) but not for his state side Delhi.
The classy bowler was omitted from Delhi’s squad for Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy T20 tournament’s Super League stage.
A Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA) official said:
“Nehra’s got a bad habit of picking and choosing domestic games, which disturbs the balance of the team. It’s not good for the youngsters in the team either, and certainly not fair on the selectors, who were upset with him after he played just two games in Baroda before leaving the team. And this has happened many times in the last few years. In recent years, no one had a clue about when he would play and when he wouldn’t. This time, though, the selectors seemed to have put their foot down and said this can’t go on. Hence, he was excluded from the team. They feel that while he can play for India and the Chennai Super Kings, he can’t play for Delhi as long as he doesn’t show enough commitment for his domestic team, which in the first place helped him become an India player.”
Nehra will thus be undercooked for the Indian tour of Australia.
He has played just three games this season.
Former Indian wicketkeeper Vijay Dahiya was non-committal.
“You’ll have to ask the selectors (about Nehra). He didn’t play after two games in Baroda because we wanted to give a chance to the youngsters. He’s bowling every day at the nets in Delhi.”
Ex-India pacer Sanjeev Sharma, though, backed Nehra.
“He played 70 percent of the games when I was the Delhi coach. His commitment to the game, even at 37, is 100 percent. I saw him roll over Punjab with a deadly six-wicket spell at the Roshanara. He will strengthen the Indian pace attack with his experience. In the IPL, he was the second-most successful bowler this time.”