'In ten days, people will forget me' - Nehra
After a sterling IPL, where he claimed 22 wickets to finish fourth in the wicket-takers list, Ashish Nehra has expressed his disappointment at not being considered for national selection for the last four years. Nehra's last match for India was the 2011 World Cup semi-final against Pakistan, but despite being a regular on the domestic circuit he hasn't been considered for either ODIs or T20 internationals.
"I don't speak to media too much but last three-four years have been really harsh," Nehra told ESPNcricinfo in an exclusive interview in Delhi. "India has tried out a lot of bowlers in T20 and one-day cricket which are the formats I was still playing and I was the highest wicket-taker between 2008 and 2011 by far. In fact, I was in the top three in the whole world.
"Till now, I don't know what exactly happened and nobody ever told me. Whenever I played with the current lot - I am not saying they are not good, I am giving an example - be it in the Challenger Trophy or the Deodhar Trophy, I have been at par with them or better than them at times. They have tried 20 or 25 bowlers but not Ashish Nehra. I don't know where I went wrong."
Nehra was the standout performer for Chennai Super Kings this season, winning three man-of-the-match awards, and in fact was the top Indian fast bowler in the tournament. He missed only one out of CSK's 17 games and bowled 62 of the possible 64 overs over the course of the season. Nehra also emphasised that he was called upon to bowl in the most difficult phases of the game - in the powerplay overs and in the death overs - underlining his utility to the team.
"It is not like I am bowling the easier overs in the middle," he said. "I am still doing the toughest job and that gives me a good kick. Mohit Sharma and Ishwar Pandey are there who have played for the Indian team but at the same time I get the satisfaction of bowling the tough overs under the Indian captain. I still miss the India cap when I go to sleep. People were saying I will go to the World Cup after the Champions League but I was not even in the 30 probables. Even after the IPL, in ten days people will forget me."
While 36-year-old Nehra's performances in the IPL earned him a lot of praise from both observers and fellow cricketers, he was more sanguine about the returns, saying there is greater "recognition" if there is more to show for in the wickets column.
"IPL is the kind of format where sometimes you're bowling well but you don't pick wickets. People don't notice unfortunately in this country," he explained. "I'm the same Ashish Nehra. The way I bowled in 2009, 2010 and 2011, I have been bowling the same way in the last three years. I was trying my best. This year I have picked more wickets. So, people do recognise you more. I got a good team like CSK in the last two years. It does make a difference."
One of the enduring themes over Nehra's career has been recurring injuries. As a result, his Test career has been limited to merely 17 matches, the last of which came in 2004 against Pakistan at Rawalpindi. Nehra, who was only 25 at the time, says that not returning to the longest format of the game will remain a "regret."
"I do miss playing Test cricket," he said. "I could have played a lot more. I don't want to give a number. A bowler like me shouldn't have ended his test career at the age of 25. In 2008-09, Dhoni and (Gary) Kirsten (then India coach) wanted me to play Test cricket. When I look back, I regret not saying yes. I should have worked harder because I was only 30 then."
While a Test recall is no longer viable, Nehra is hopeful that after his IPL success, he may reappear on the radar of the national selectors for the shorter formats. When asked if Harbhajan Singh's call up for the one-off Test in Bangladesh makes him believe players of his generation can make a case again, Nehra said all he was keen to see was a consistency in approach while selecting Indian teams.
"I have always felt that I am good enough to play for India," he said. "I still am good enough. It is a thought process, not because Harbhajan is back that I should be picked. I believe that whoever performs should be picked. It is not about the age. If I am doing well at 36 and the other guy is 26 and as good as me, you should go with him. You should not pick someone just because he is 20; not just with me but with everybody."
Gaurav Kalra is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo. @gauravkalra75