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August 14, 2009
Ashish Nehra made an impressive comeback in the international circuit after almost four years and believes he is now ready to lead the Indian pace attack in the ICC Champions Trophy in the absence of the injured Zaheer Khan. Nehra picked six wickets in the ODI series against West Indies and his return to the team owed largely to his success in the IPL, where he was the third-highest wicket-taker, representing Delhi Daredevils.
"In the absence of Zaheer Khan I am ready to be the lead bowler," Nehra told PTI. "I may have been out for over three years but people must realise I am very experienced and have been playing cricket for the last 10 years. I am excited and hope there are no injuries."
Nehra featured prominently in India's 2-1 series win against West Indies, grabbing three-wicket hauls in their victories in Kingston and St Lucia. However, the fast bowler feels he is yet to bowl at his best. "I was happy with my performance in the West Indies tour. I still feel I am bowling at about 80-85% of my capability," he said. "I am back in rhythm and will soon reach 100%."
Nehra attributed his international return to his success in the IPL. His 19 wickets at 18.21 was crucial to Delhi's progression to the semi-finals. "IPL gave an opportunity to make a comeback into the Indian team after more than three years," he said. "IPL is as good as international cricket. Every team has about eight-nine international cricketers so the standard is really high.
"It is a good platform for anybody who has been out of the team and wants to make a comeback into the national squad."
Highly susceptible to injury, Nehra has been an irregular member of the Indian team for much of his career. He had his first ankle surgery after the 2003 World Cup and midway through the series in Zimbabwe in 2005, he returned home due to a back injury. In 2006, he had another surgery after he tore his ligament while twisting his ankle in the nets, and went through one more operation before returning to domestic cricket. Nehra admitted he's been unlucky with fitness problems.
"Some of my injuries were freak injuries but name any Indian fast bowler who has played non-stop for the last 18 months," he said. "These things happen in international cricket. I know I have missed four years of my prime but I am confident that I still have another 4-5 years of good cricket left in me."
Nehra is a part of the 30-man provisional squad for the Champions Trophy and was hoping to be selected in the final team and repeating his IPL success. "I am looking forward to the Champions Trophy especially because it is in South Africa," he said. "I get a different level of confidence when I go to Johannesburg or Durban.
"I have always bowled well there and hope to do the same this time around too."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Stats highlights from the fourth ODI between India and West Indies in Dharamsala