Ashish Nehra is “loving” being back in India colours © BCCI
He arrived in Colombo, at the Asian Test Championship in February 1999, a slippery, 19-year-old left-armer with a wispy pencil moustache. Four years later, in Durban, he bowled with a swollen ankle and picked up 6 for 23 against England at the World Cup. Eight years after that, he played another World Cup, bowled a match-winning spell in the semi-final, full of clever changes of length and pace, fractured his finger while diving for a catch in the outfield, and sat out the final. You can see him in the team photographs with the trophy, looking like a forlorn cyborg with a bionic arm.
For a long time it seemed like the last we would see of Ashish Nehra in international cricket. A fitting end to a career blighted by injury – the joy of a World Cup triumph, tempered by the frustration of missing the final with yet another broken bone.
Somehow, five years on, he’s here again, at another world event, brought back from cryogenic storage. His run-up is as awkward as ever, his reactions are as transparent as ever when someone misfields off his bowling, and his effect on the batsman and speed gun is still the same. A month from his 37th birthday, Ashish Nehra is living another chapter of a weird and wonderful career.
“I’m loving it,” Nehra said, on the eve of India’s match against Bangladesh at the Chinnaswamy Stadium. “Whatever responsibility the captain and team management have given me, I’m just trying to do the best I can do, and I will just try to play as long as I can, as long as my body holds up, and keep working hard.”
Since his comeback during the T20 series in Australia in January, Nehra has taken 15 wickets in 12 matches at an average of 19.93 while conceding 7.29 runs per over. All 15 wickets have come in pressure overs: 11 in the Powerplay overs, and the other four in the last four.
“This is not the first time that I’m bowling two-three overs in the first six or bowling one or two overs in the last four,” Nehra said. “That’s my job, and as long as I’m doing that job, it means I’m right up there, I’m doing whatever is supposed to be done.
“I always love to be in my team, to be [one of the] top two bowlers who can bowl up front and bowl at death, so as long as I’m doing that, I’m really happy. For that definitely I have to work really hard, and I’m trying to do that, and my job is really important. We have people like [Jasprit] Bumrah or Bhuvneshwar Kumar or [Mohammed] Shami, so whatever experience I have in the last 16-17 years, I just pass it on to them, and I’m sure it’s helping them.”
There was no hiding the pride in those words – “it means I’m right up there” – and there was pride too in the work he had put in to keep himself in the frame for a comeback, five years after his last appearance.
“I’ve been working hard for the last 3-4 years, I was looking forward to making a comeback, and my family, friends, it’s difficult for me to pinpoint one thing that I’m grateful to, but definitely, my main motive was to keep working hard. I wasn’t somebody just working hard to play domestic cricket or IPL. I always train or work hard to play international cricket, so that’s how you make a comeback.”
And though it might be 17 years since he first played international cricket, Nehra remains frozen in time in some respects. Guffaws greeted his response to a question about the social-media rivalry between fans of India and Bangladesh.
“You’re asking this question to the wrong person, because I am somebody who is not on social media, and I’m still using my old Nokia.”
Nehra was full of praise when asked about a fellow left-arm seamer, Mustafizur Rahman, calling his slower ball “god-gifted”. Nehra and Mustafizur will be on opposite sides in Wednesday’s match, but could share the new ball for Sunrisers Hyderabad when the IPL begins.
“Especially in this format, [Mustafizur] has been in really good form, and the kind of slower ball he bowls, he’s got a very god-gifted slower ball, he has a very good action, and I think he’s a very good future prospect, especially in one-day cricket and T20 cricket. The good thing is, in IPL he’s in my team, so definitely it will be a help for me as well, so he is a great prospect.”
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo