I would love to play in the Champions Trophy - Nehra
Ashish Nehra has expressed a strong desire to make a comeback to India's ODI team. Though he last played in the format in the 2011 World Cup, Nehra has said he retains hopes of playing fifty-over cricket for India again when they land in England in June for the Champions Trophy.
"I would love to play in the Champions Trophy," Nehra told ESPNcricinfo. "When you go to England you will take at least four fast bowlers in addition to two spinners. I know I can bowl anywhere: up front, in the middle overs and at death. I can also share the experience I have with the other young fast bowlers."
Nehra's last competitive fifty-over match - the recent practice game against England notwithstanding - was in December 2015. But that doesn't deter him. He says he has worked out a detailed plan for his comeback, which includes playing at least half of Delhi's six matches in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, India's premier one-day tournament.
"I aim to play at least three matches to build up my match-fitness. Fifty-overs is a different challenge and Vijay Hazare is a good platform to test myself," Nehra said. "I bowl about eight overs even in the nets while preparing for a T20 match. It is not about fitness. It is about the feel of playing in a 50-over match."
It was Nehra's success in the IPL, initially at Chennai Super Kings and then with the Sunrisers Hyderabad, that brought him back in contention for India in T20 cricket. The selectors could not ignore the key role he played for those teams, keeping it tight with the new ball and bowling yorkers at the death. The confidence gained from a successful reintegration to international cricket is apparent in Nehra. "Once I play these Vijay Hazare matches I will be fit enough to play and good to go for the Champions Trophy."
Nehra's original timeline had him working towards returning to one-day cricket with the New Zealand series last October but he fell ill and was forced to spend a couple of months on the sidelines.
A match-winning 3 for 28 against England in the second T20I and more recently hauls of 2 for 35 and 3 for 26 for North Zone in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy suggest Nehra has regained his fitness. At 38, he is the oldest active player in the Indian team but that does little to diminish his value. Nehra still bowls at speeds of 135 to 140 kph and his experience - he will complete 18 years in international cricket at the end of February - makes him sort of a father figure for the young fast bowlers like Jasprit Bumrah and Hardik Pandya. Chairman of selectors MSK Prasad, too, has acknowledged Nehra's importance, saying he can be handy in English conditions.
Nehra is hopeful these assets help make him an attractive pick for the Champions Trophy but felt it premature to think as far as the next ICC tournament. "The 2019 World Cup is still two-and-a-half years away. We are going to play at least 50 one-dayers in between. For me every tournament is important. I will try to play as much as I can."
Nagraj Gollapudi is a senior assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo