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.”
Ajinkya Rahane is a quiet man.
He lets his bat do the talking and how his willow has conversed with the game and the fans over the past two years.
Ajinkya Rahane is a team-man.
He is in the Rahul Dravid mould.
Dropped in Bangladesh for not being suited to the ODI format and having a slower strike rate than his contemporaries, the Mumbaikar is now the stand-in skipper for the upcoming Zimbabwe tour in the absence of MS Dhoni, Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma.
Rahane—refreshingly—has no pretensions about his new role.
“The decision of naming me captain did come as a surprise because I wasn’t thinking about captaincy ever. I didn’t know how to react when I heard the news.
Once the news slowly began to sink in, I became really confident of handling this new responsibility.”
“Firstly, playing under MS Dhoni I would observe how he would be calm on the field. He has a very peculiar and calm way of handling situations. I would like to take that quality from him.
What I would like to take from Virat Kohli would be controlled aggression. You can see that quality in his batting and his captaincy.
And finally, Rahul bhai is someone who likes to keep things really simple on the field, which I got to know while playing under him with the Rajasthan Royals.
Having said that, I have my own set of ideas and I know what I have to do on the field.”
This is the first series for Team India since the re-framing of the ODI rules.
The changes are as follows:
The obvious effect is to reduce team totals. 400+ scores may once again become a thing of the past.
A return to a more traditional format implies that batsmen should eschew risk-taking and play to their strengths. Technique would be of paramount importance again. Spinners, of course, benefit with the extra fielder in the deep in the slog overs. Captains can be either offensive or defensive in the first 10 overs.
Murali Vijay, too, gets a chance to buttress his ODI credentials.
And the likes of Robin Uthappa and Kedar Jadhav can stake their claims to the wicketkeeper’s slot should Dhoni decide to quit sooner than later.
I suspect that it is this game of musical chairs that is of more salient interest to the selectors and the Indian think tank.
Other stories to follow are whether Manish Pandey, Ambati Rayudu or Manoj Tiwary can make a lasting impression. Opportunities to be in the full XI are few and far between.
Despite the absence of the main stalwarts, the squad is not a young lot with Harbhajan Singh leading the spinning trio.
Cheteshwar Pujara is missing from the above. He leads the India A side at home against Australia A.
Now Rahane, Vijay and Pujara may consider themselves hard-done by that they are not first choices whenever the ODI squad is chosen. They are labelled ‘Test specialists‘.
But , to be frank, is that really an injustice to the troika? Is it not an indicator of the selectors’ faith in them that despite the relatively fewer opportunities given them, they are penciled in ahead of the glory boys when it comes to the guts-and-gore version of the sport?
Being a Test player is the pinnacle of achievement. For Rahane, Vijay and Pujara to be considered head-and-shoulders above their counterparts should be a matter of pride and not despondency.
Class always tells.
Virat Kohli is avowedly a proponent of the “six batsmen, five bowlers” theory in Test cricket.
The dynamic India Test skipper believes that it is the only way to win games and be aggressive.
In theory, it is a wonderful ploy. Six batsmen should be able to get the team the desired runs on the scoreboard. Five specialist bowlers ought to be able to bowl out the opposition and restrict them if required. This would also decrease the load on the fast bowlers, especially the Indian ones who seem to lack the legs to come charging in at the end of the day when the new ball is available. Bowling 18 overs in a day is somewhat more palatable.
“I would want someone like R Ashwin, who is averaging 40 with the bat in Test matches – you really can’t ask for more from an allrounder – and someone like Harbhajan Singh to step up with the bat, and [Wriddhiman] Saha too. If those three start clicking, you literally have eight batsmen, and you can’t really ask for more as a captain. It’s basically up to the first six to take more responsibility and we are confident of doing that.”
The above statement requires further analysis.
The stratagem, as stated, will execute just fine on sub-continental wickets. It is when India tours England, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa that the shortcomings become evident.
The team need batsmen who can exhibit patience, fortitude and technique abroad to counter the fast bowling threat. The nucleus of the side, thus, has to remain unchanged. I am not a fan of the ‘horses-for-courses‘ method of selecting the side.
Quicker, bouncier wickets would need Team India to play three or four pacers. Are any of these in the all-rounder mold? Except for Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and Irfan Pathan (perennially injured), none of the current lot inspire confidence.
Gone are the days when the likes of Madan Lal, Roger Binny and Manoj Prabhakar could be counted on to contribute 20-30 runs with the bat and two to three wickets with the ball.
Fast bowling all-rounders, as a breed, are almost extinct on the Indian cricketing scene while batsmen-wicketkeepers flourish aplenty.
Perhaps, the new Ranji regime where games are played on grassy pitches with steeper bounce will revive the species.
What he said:
“But we shouldn’t leave so much grass where even a 120-kph bowler appears like Malcolm Marshall.”
Indian team discard and off-spinner Harbhajan Singh is critical of the BCCI policy to provide green-top wickets for the ongoing Ranji trophy.
“Our wickets make such bowlers look unplayable. Some of these bowlers end up picking 50 wickets in a season. So you can’t ignore them. When such a bowler is picked for international cricket, he gets exposed while bowling on a slightly drier surface. The ball doesn’t reach the batsman.”
“I feel the wicket should offer help to pacers on the first morning but it shouldn’t get bowlers into a mindset that ‘waah, toss jeet gaye, ab toh mera hi din hai [wow, we have won the toss. Now it is my day]’. There should be help for bowlers but if a batsman applies himself he should also be able to score big. And on the fourth-fifth days, spinners should come into play.
Play on a sporting wicket but don’t play on a wicket where ordinary bowlers are made to look terrorizing. It doesn’t help. We are not taking the game anywhere. You are giving fake confidence to bowlers. Anybody can bowl on such wickets. It is like on a rank turner, anybody can take wickets. Similarly, any seamer who can swing the ball a bit and bowls a good line and length will do well on such tops. But to make it challenging, you have to make the conditions change just like it happens in Test cricket.”
What he really meant:
“It was alright when we had spinning wickets on the first day for home Tests, and we spinners could corner all the wickets. The fast bowlers would just take the shine off the ball. But this means the boot is on the other foot and I can’t kick unshod. Besides, how am I to make the World Cup squad if I can’t get anyone out?”
What he definitely didn’t:
“The additional bounce suits me just fine. My kind of bowling relies less on turn and more on upward trajectory.”
What he said:
“Well, every man and his dog would have known that.”
Darrell Hair is bemused with the recent crackdown on illegal bowling actions launched by the ICC.
The Australian umpire, who famously called Murali Muralitharan in 1995, said:
“Whatever they’re doing now, they’re doing 20 years too late. They had a chance in 1995 to clean things up and it’s taken them 19 years to finally come back and say they want chuckers out of the game. I can’t believe that Saaed Ajmal has been able to bowl as long as he has, and they say he is bending his arm by 45 degrees [the legal limit is 15 degrees] or something. Well, every man and his dog would have known that.
I suppose what it does show is the general weakness of the umpires over time to do anything about it.”
“People say ‘you should be happy with the way things turned out’…with the chuckers being weeded out. But it doesn’t give me any personal satisfaction whatsoever. All I was doing at any time was just doing my job and I think I did it to the best of my ability. The fact was that no other ICC umpires were willing to have a go. Ross Emerson was very adamant about his thoughts about chuckers but they soon put him into the background.
I suppose I was lucky I had a few games under my belt so they didn’t want to target me, but they certainly got him out of the way fairly swiftly. It’ll be interesting to see how many umpires are brave enough to get involved in it. I said it in the late ’90s that if something wasn’t done about it you’d have a generation of chuckers on your hands and now you have. They try to emulate Harbajan Singh and Saqlain Mushtaq and Murali and that’s the problem. The crackdown should have happened on those players and the ICC should have let it be known that it wasn’t acceptable.”
ICC general manager of cricket operations, Geoff Allardice, believes the game has reached a tipping point on this issue.
“The game had reached a tipping point on this issue, when many groups within the game felt that there were too many bowlers with suspect actions operating in international cricket.The most prominent of these groups was the ICC Cricket Committee at its meeting in June, when it observed the ICC’s reporting and testing procedures were not adequately scrutinising these bowlers. They weren’t the only ones talking about this issue, as similar views had been expressed by teams, players, umpires, referees and administrators.
Since that time the umpires have felt more confident to report their concerns with certain bowlers, and their concerns have been supported by the results of the testing of these reported bowlers.”
In India, the irrepressible Bishan Singh Bedi could not resist firing a few salvoes of his own at his favourite peeve.
“I would like to see what happens to Bhajji (Harbhajan Singh) and Pragyan Ojha, now that umpires are reporting bowlers for throwing and action is being taken against them.”
“The rectification had to come from the establishment.It’s no doubt late, but better late than never.”
On the timing of the clampdown:
“Timing doesn’t matter for goodness. It was ugly to watch chuckers floating around – someone throwing javelin, some shot put and others darts.”
What Darrell Hair really meant:
“If you know it, your best friend knows it.Besides, should the umpire be looking at the bowler’s arm or at the batsman? How do umpires measure the angle with the naked eye? Trained dogs, perhaps? Something like sniffer dogs, eh? Can we umpires have compasses please?”
What he definitely didn’t:
“I knew it and I was labelled a dog for it, wasn’t I?
What he said:
“The problem in India is if some one says a rooster has given an egg it will become news!! Whether it’s true or not it doesn’t matter."
Yuvraj Singh is livid that bookie Mazhar Majeed named Harbhajan Singh and him among the cricketers he had ‘access’ to.
Majeed and Pakistani fast bowler, Mohammad Asif, are on trial in a London court facing spot-fixing charges in a betting scam.
The News Of The World broke the sensational expose with footage of meetings between intrepid reporter Mazhar Mehmood and the crooked bookie.
"And who is Majid!! Absolute rubbish! Don’t no (sic), never met!”
The next tweet compared Majeed to a rooster practically terming his ‘lie’ a cock-and-bull story.
Harbhajan Singh was equally furious speaking to reporters in Nagpur:
I don’t know who this person is, I have never met him. We will definitely take some action against him. I don’t know whether it will be legal action or whatever.
But I will definitely bring it to the BCCI’s notice and I’m sure they’ll take the right kind of action against these kind people who are trying to spoil the game.
What he really meant:
“Sensationalism first, fact-finding later. That’s the name of the game.”
What he definitely didn’t:
“This rooster (Mazhar Majeed) laid some golden eggs for us (Harbhajan Singh and me).”
Can Harbhajan Singh not take a joke?
This is the question raised by Vijay Mallya of United Breweries(UB).
The liquor magnate was slapped with a legal notice by Avtar Kaul, the Singh family matriarch.
The distressed mother has gone on to charge the UB Group with offending the Sikh community and fostering disunity within the Indian cricket team.
The cause for offense is a UB commercial parodying Bhajji’s appearance for the Royal Stag brand from the Pernod Ricard stable.