India cricket April 30, 2013

Ashish Nehra, we are grateful

Kshitij Mohta, India
He may have been injury-prone and clumsy, but Ashish Nehra made some unforgettable contributions to Indian cricket

Ashish Nehra has never been a headliner. I don't remember anybody telling me that he was their favourite bowler. Given his lanky build and gentle run-up, it's always been difficult to say where he generates his pace from. When he's batting or fielding, you always fear the worst as the ball heads towards him. And before Rohit Sharma and Ravindra Jadeja became popular, Ashish Nehra had been the butt of a number of joke trolls.

Generally operating in the shadow of Zaheer Khan and Irfan Pathan over the past decade, Nehra quietly went about the job of 'keeping the pressure on at the other end'. His bowling plan seemed relatively simple - good length on off stump, with the ability to move the ball both ways. Here and there, he punched above his weight - the 6-23 against England in the 2003 World Cup comes to mind - bowled one of the fastest deliveries by an Indian, and took 4-40 in the Asia Cup final. On a number of occasions, he was given the task of bowling the last over.

I best remember Nehra for his decisive spells in the biggest games of them all - India v Pakistan. He regularly got hit for a few runs, but more than made up for that with a match-turning over and his trademark 'aeroplane' celebration. First up in the 2003 World Cup, in a game better known for the upper cuts played by Tendulkar and Sehwag, he cleaned up a dangerous looking Saeed Anwar with a perfect yorker.

Then, in the memorable 2004 tour of Pakistan, when India scored 349 in the first ODI and Pakistan lost two early wickets, the game seemed to be over. Inzamam-ul-Haq carved a magnificent 122 to bring Pakistan back into the game and into a winning position. However, once Murali Kartik dismissed him, the game was in the balance again. Mohammad Kaif pulled off a brilliant catch in the penultimate over, leaving Nehra to defend eight runs in the over of his life against Moin Khan. In a display that today's pace spearheads would be proud of, Nehra hit the blockhole consistently and didn't allow Moin to lift him over extra cover, with the coach Javed Miandad gesticulating wildly. With six required off the last ball, Nehra enjoyed his fair share of luck as a full toss was hit straight up and caught at cover.

In the 2011 World Cup against Pakistan, he again proved his doubters wrong. After a poor last over against South Africa, he was a surprise selection for this game. His first spell kept the openers quiet, but then came a defining moment. Diving to take a catch at midwicket, Nehra injured a finger but came back to finish his quota of overs at the death. He was rewarded with two wickets and finished as the most economical bowler in the game. Unfortunately, he could not play the final due to a broken finger.

My favourite moment comes from a Test Match, a format he was not too successful in. With the series tied at 1-1, India won the toss and put Pakistan in to bat in the decider at Rawalpindi. The Indian bowlers made good use of the conditions and picked up three early wickets, however the danger man Inzamam was still at the crease and it required a moment of brilliance to dismiss him. Nehra got one to come back into his pads at a good length, but the umpire's finger would just not go up for the plumbest of LBWs. The best of bowlers would have been distraught. Nehra, though, came back and landed the next delivery in exactly the same spot. This time though he got the ball to move away, and a dazed Inzy nicked it to the keeper. Test match bowling at its best.

For these wonderful moments against Pakistan, to the ever-smiling Nehra we shall be most grateful.

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  • Dheeban on May 4, 2013, 8:47 GMT

    First of all, I should thank the writer for writing a piece on one of my favourite bowlers ever, Nehra. Yes, Nehra has fans and I am one of them. I think injuries hampered him a lot and his bowling action probably has something to do with it. But Tendulkar spotted Nehra as a very promising one under his captaincy when India toured Sri Lanka 15 years or so back. I was so glad when he made a valiant come back after Vengsarkar once joked even Vengsarkar played some time back when asked about Nehra's come back. That South Africa IPL gave a chance for Nehra to bring himself back into national contention. He capped it off with magnificent showing against Pakistan in WC semi-final. He would have been an automatic choice for the final if not for his injury. A well and truly earned World Cup victory in the end for Nehra!

  • Dummy4 on May 2, 2013, 15:26 GMT

    I still remember Inzamam`s dismissal at Rawalpindi. That was pure class!!!

  • Dummy4 on May 2, 2013, 9:22 GMT

    Only if he was not bogged down by fitness issues.

  • Kshitiz on May 2, 2013, 9:06 GMT

    Thanks Kshitij Mohta for coming with an article, which describes Nehra's brilliance Pace and Tenacity. He should have been on tours of England and Australia 2011, he would have performed better than others selected. Same act of negligence has been happening with likes of Kaif, Uthappa, Ajit Agarkar, Jp yadav for last decade.

  • Patturaja on May 2, 2013, 6:07 GMT

    Nehra is a lethal bowler when on song. Any batsman would fear to face him especially the hardhitters like Gayle, Dishan, cant just swing their bat at him as he is accurate . He along with Munaf were the main pillars in bowling dept during our 2011 world cup victor. Dont know why both were ignored after that

  • S on May 2, 2013, 4:15 GMT

    While I agree with everything the author says here. and appreciate where he's coming from, I must also note that this is what has happened to India's bowling over the years: we have bowlers who have moments, not careers. For Ishant, its that spell against Ponting; for Sreesanth, its that one ball against Kallis; for Irfan Pathan, its those opening tests in Australia when he looked like Wasim Akram; for Munaf, its those early tests when he seemed genuinely quick - and so on and on. We are reduced to counting spells, balls and at best, a test or two. Unfortunately, it takes 2 or 3 top class bowlers who can consistently take 2-3 wickets every innings, especially top order batsmen, over a sustained number of years, that makes for a winning side.

  • Insane on May 1, 2013, 18:42 GMT

    he did well in the last 5 overs with zak while defending 414.against sl, which would otherwise be an embaressment...... they defended 32 in last 5 ovrs

  • Dummy4 on May 1, 2013, 15:40 GMT

    I think physically he is not strong enough to be a pace bowler and despite that he could bowl at good speed. The more bowling he did, he got injured and sat out. Then coming back from injury and reach peak form took a while and the injury cycle started again. Very unlucky.

  • Dummy4 on May 1, 2013, 10:21 GMT

    Ever-smiling? I would never keep the wickets to him. Still remember the abuses he hurled at Dhoni and others before him. At least I would put tape on his mouth before he comes on to bowl.

    He has a very bad temperament towards the audience as well. Recently in Kotla, while he was standing near the fine leg fence, everyone were rooting for him. But he never even bothered to look back and appreciate the cheers. Then of course, being the Delhi crowd that it is, once he started getting hammered, he received a grand welcome(with abuses) back to the fence. Never seen this being done to any other DD player. Not even Irfan Pathan who usually goes for plenty.

    But yes, he was a very good bowler who could have done wonders to his career had it not been cut short of injuries. I wish he had done something about his attitude and fitness earlier.

  • Pundrick on May 1, 2013, 9:15 GMT

    Thanks for writing this up. He is one of my favorite for his competitiveness and sharp bowling.