Sri Lanka v India, Asia Cup final, Dambulla June 25, 2010

Ashish Nehra sets an example for India's struggling quicks

India's fast bowlers, and Ashish Nehra in particular, raised their performances against Sri Lanka to secure their first Asia Cup title in 15 years

With his perennial hangdog expression, slouching gait and general uncoordinated air, Ashish Nehra looks the antithesis of the stereotype of the menacing fast bowler. In addition to those qualities, his average bowling speed is only in the mid-130s, but as the Sri Lankans found out in Dambulla, Nehra can be a redoubtable opponent on a pitch that assists the quicks.

In tournament finals in Sri Lanka, Nehra's performances have run the gamut from 0 for 65 to 6 for 59 without proving match-turning, but he changed that with an eight-ball spell that ripped through Sri Lanka's middle order and ended their hopes of a first home one-day title in five years.

First up was Mahela Jayawardene, a master of the art of killing the bowling softly in limited-over matches. He was foxed by the extra kick and swerve Nehra extracted and feathered a catch to the wicketkeeper. MS Dhoni, renowned for his cool demeanour on the field, realised the importance of the wicket and celebrated extravagantly, flinging the ball up and pumping his fists.

Then came Sri Lanka's most improved cricketer, Angelo Mathews, who had already played a couple of fine hands in the tournament. He was beaten first ball, as it snuck between the bat and the stumps, and was gone next delivery, nicking as he threw a square cut at a wide delivery.

Two overs later the contest was effectively over when captain Kumar Sangakkara's attempted pull off a short delivery hit high on the bat and lobbed to Zaheer Khan at mid-on. At 51 for 5, the India's 15-year drought at the Asia Cup was set to end.

Nehra's performance followed an incisive start from the new-ball bowlers, Praveen Kumar and Zaheer, who got the ball to jag both ways and routinely had the Sri Lankan batsmen fishing for it. The trio had combined figures of 26-3-105-7.

Dhoni lauded the seamers, but cautioned about getting carried away by one effort. "Consistency (is what I'm looking for). I'm not the sort of person who goes really up after one performance, and gets bogged down after couple of them," Dhoni said. "When it comes to talent, no one can doubt the talent that Zaheer, Nehra and Praveen have, it's a good sign they did well in conditions that helped, they made it a point to get the opposition out cheaply. It was one of the best performances by the fast bowlers in recent times."

Coming into the tournament, India's weakest link had been the bowling, particularly with the likes of Ishant Sharma and Sreesanth going through a fallow period. Given the frequency of injuries to the first-choice pair of Zaheer and Nehra, India need the likes of Ishant to be groomed and ready in the run-up to the World Cup.

As bowlers who burst brightly onto the international firmament and then had a slow fade out, they needn't look further than Nehra for inspiration to work their way back. Nehra was a regular in the one-day outfit for most of two-and-a-half years after the six-wicket haul in the 2003 World Cup that everyone in India remembers him for. Since then a bunch of operations on his ankles and stress fractures of the back kept him out of competitive cricket for two one-year spells. His career looked headed for oblivion, but he battled back and some stirring IPL performances pitchforked him back into the national team, where he has been a fixture for more than a year now.

That never-say-die attitude will come in handy for Ishant & Co, who may have more natural talent than Nehra but seem to lack the nous and temperament to shackle aggressive batsmen.

Siddarth Ravindran is a sub-editor at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on June 25, 2010, 23:37 GMT

    "The guys were pumped-up to perform..." Dhoni said. I am here to convey to MSD that we Indians have always pumped you players in every match, but until and unless there is a real retrospection into your deeds and influencing non-cricketing factors are checked you people donot take cricket seriously as the issue of 150 crores of us. Now that your team has won this cup, you will keep us on waiting for years together for the next cup. Leave about the next cup, the next performance most probably be a flop as there is no consistency in us. MSD must think about this seriously and respecting our emotions he must chalk out lines for the team to perform consistently without involving in non-cricketing domains.

  • Dummy4 on June 25, 2010, 23:16 GMT

    Congratulations! Ashish Nehra, you have done for which you are known and many a fans like me would love to see you in this destruction process of the top order. AN is always known for his spearhead performances. No doubt over to say that AN has set and example for all the quickies as to how to use the conditions properly even when the pitch is medium with the pace. AN is really known for his whit and determination. Keep it Up, the real Hero of this great grand finale win!!!

  • Dummy4 on June 25, 2010, 22:46 GMT

    ishant sharma should not play on indian wickets because he doesn't do well...use him for australia, SA, and england and he will for indian conditions we need more of munaf patel and rp singh who can bowl quick...also a fast bowling all-rounder aka irfan pathan is a much better option than jadeja even though jadeja has done much wrong in ODIs.

  • Julian on June 25, 2010, 22:09 GMT

    How did Sri Lanka go wrong? 1. Maharoof - yeah he was good in a dead rubber. A dead rubber means nothing though. India is a talented side and you need your best players for a final. Maharoof is not one of them, you could see by the way he was fielding. How much did he give away? Welegedara would have been a better selection ahead of him as his general skills are quite better. 2. No selection of Samaraweera - this player is perfect for the situations SL found themselves in today. He is a class act, he could definitely be SL's equivalent to India's "wall" if he was given more opportunity to play and develop. He's also a centurion. No idea why the hell Kandamby was selected before him. After Mahela, Tharanga, and Dilshan were dismissed I knew there were no more capable batsmen available to deliver the team. 3. Sangakkara really needs to use another wicket keeper in future. He can't bat and wicket keep in the same game now. It's too draining on him phyysically and it affects his batting!

  • Dummy4 on June 25, 2010, 20:27 GMT

    @AvidCricFan: Karthik indeed was a surprise MOM, but why is everybody hooked on to the fact that Nehra bowled brilliantly, when he did not. The quality of Indian pace bowling is so shallow that an OK performance from them seems to be followewd by a celebration of them. Zaheer bowled better than Nehra, with Nehra just being more lucky. His wicket of Mahela Jayawardene alone warranted note. Mathews, Sangakkara played rash strokes. Thank God, Karthik got the MOM, else Nehra would be there for another full year. Bring back the Pathans and Ishants, BCCI.

  • Dummy4 on June 25, 2010, 17:57 GMT

    great win! congrats to the team. But touting this as a 'bowlers win' is incorrect and premature. Its more a one off performance. Neither Zaheer nor Nehra have enough pace and consistency to trouble quality batsmen. I kinda agree with Sanga...they did seem to have a bad day.

    India needs genuine pace bowlers, not medium pacers with top speeds in 130s. Ishant showed great promise during the Aussie tour when he toyed with the great Ponting. Even Irfan had good pace when he began his career. Somehow Indian pacers tend to fall to mediocre bowling speeds and lose the all important spunk that is required of a quality fast bowler. We need a dedicated bowling coach and I dont mean Prasad who had only two pace modes in his time : slow and slower

  • Anit on June 25, 2010, 16:57 GMT

    I don't understand why Nehra was not Man of the Match. We won this match not because of Karthik's batting, but exceptional bowling performance from Nehra. While Karthik performed in this match, I still have doubts about him being a consitent all weather opener.

  • kumar on June 25, 2010, 16:45 GMT

    As per "Sageleaf" comments "India didn't win but SL just gave away the match". His comments are somewhat similar to Sangakkara's complacent comments. If this is true then no team will get appreciation for winning. Mistakes of one team is advantage to other teams. If India had bowled and fielded this way (did against Pakistan too) in previous matches against SL then India wouldn't have lost even single match. Good India lost to SL in dead rubber match and that really helped Dhoni's team team not to make mistakes(like SL did in final). I appreciate SL's performance in this series. Everything worked for them and also they really played well. Its always good to have confidence but not complacency.

  • Madhav on June 25, 2010, 13:23 GMT

    Nehra on his day bowls reall well.But he is not very consistent. I wonder what sreesanth,ishant and RP Singh are doing.

  • Ishara on June 25, 2010, 12:48 GMT

    Dilshan should adjust his game to the can he try to go after from ball one,without spend more time on the wicket?there are some issues with lights & pravin is swinging the ball.Attacking batsman doesn't mean by hitting the ball from ball one.Gilchrist,heyden,sewag they ll take some balls to get eye in before go after balling.I think those players got very good defence,so they can negotiate moving ball. dilshan should be solid & confident on his technique.These are international bowlers.they got talent thats why they are in the side,not like you must give some respect till you get in.Kandambi is awful in ground fielding.He improve his fitness.I wonder what happened to our fielding standards?many coaches there,wonder what they do.Mahela,kapugedara malinga and sometimes kulasekara are the best.many say dilshan is the best fielder,but he never picked blinders like mahanama once did.when he bat well,you cant expect 100% in the feild from dilshan.

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