Delhi v Tamil Nadu, Ranji Trophy, 2nd day November 24, 2006

My fitness, not talent, is on trial - Nehra

Ashish Nehra spoke to Cricinfo after sending down 40 overs for one wicket at the cost of 88 runs on a dead pitch

Gautam Gambhir is likely to be kicking himself for missing out on a golden opportunity to score some runs and force his way back into the Indian team. Aakash Chopra only recently said he desperately wanted one more chance at the highest level to prove himself. Both of them failed to get runs with Dilip Vengsarkar, the chairman of selectors, watching the Delhi v Tamil Nadu Ranji Trophy match. But the man who wore the expression of someone whose best friend had died was Ashish Nehra, who is on the comeback trail. And you could not blame him. By the time Tamil Nadu were bowled out, he had sent down 40 overs for one wicket at the cost of 88 runs on a dead pitch that could drive quick men to suicide. At the end of the day, he spent some time with Cricinfo, right next to the aforementioned pitch, talking about what it was like doing his job.



'How many matches can I bowl 40 overs per innings in? I'm bound to get injured if I keep doing this' - Ashish Nehra © Getty Images

Should Ranji Trophy matches be played on pitches like this?
I'm playing my fourth game in a month after ten months out due to injury. All the wickets were the same. Perhaps Kolkata was worse than this. I'm not saying it because I'm a fast bowler, but I don't think we should be playing Ranji matches on wickets like this. There isn't much point. This is the first time in my career I've bowled 40 overs in an innings. After the first ten overs you really don't feel like bowling anymore. You need luck to pick wickets on pitches like this. Even if you work really hard and bowl 20 overs in a day, you can expect to pick up one or two wickets. If you have express pace like Shoaib Akhtar or Brett Lee - which no Indian bowler has - you might be able to do something. If someone like me bowls 40 overs, and there'll be another four-day game in just a few days, you're bound to get injured. I'm not saying you should play on seaming wickets, but you have to give something to the bowlers as well.

Can you judge anything about bowlers or batsmen on these kind of pitches?
If you pick up three wickets in a day on a pitch like this it's worth more than a hundred. Once a batsman is set, and he makes up his mind to stay at the wicket, there's little a bowler can do. At the same time I don't think you can judge batsmen on their performances on these pitches. It's one thing to get the occasional flat pitch. But this is the fourth pitch in a row I've come across in a month that has been like this. When I saw this pitch I didn't even feel like bowling. But you have to prove your fitness and show that. But how many matches can I bowl 40 overs per innings in? I'm bound to get injured if I keep doing this.

Is it fair to expect someone who plays on pitches like this to do well when they go abroad and find a pitch like the one in Durban?
This is why we struggle when we go out of India. Forget about Durban, which is a fast pitch. On any pitch in South Africa or Australia you're not going to stand much chance if you pick people based on their performance on pitches like this. These pitches are killing Indian cricket.

On any pitch in South Africa or Australia you're not going to stand much chance if you pick people based on their performance on pitches like this. These pitches are killing Indian cricket

Dilip Vengsarkar, the chairman of selectors, is here watching this match. Do you think he could have got much out of watching the cricket played?
The chairman of selectors was at the Duleep Trophy final as well and I believe even there he said you couldn't really judge much from cricket on pitches like this. If you take my case it's ok, because people are not here to judge my talent, it's my fitness that I have to prove. Everyone knows what I can do.

You've been injured so many times it's hard to keep count. Is it fair to say you're fragile?
Some people just have a certain kind of body. Even if I work out in the gym it's not like I'm going to get big bulging muscles. You take someone like Shane Watson - if you've seen him with his shirt off he has six-pack abs, big muscular shoulders and everything. But he's injured every three months. He played in the ICC Super Series last year and his shoulder gave way. He played in the Champions Trophy now and he's done a hamstring. Sometimes even when you work really hard you pick up injuries. I know that making a comeback now is not going to be easy. If people are just looking to see if I am fit that is one thing. If they're expecting me to bowl 30 overs in an innings and then pick up five wickets each time, on these pitches, then it's going to be really hard for me to make a comeback.

It's been suggested that you only want to play one-day cricket, and don't want to play Tests ...
Someone else said that to me as well. In six years of playing for India I've not heard this till now. I've played under Greg Chappell in two series - Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe. If I left from Zimbabwe and then played cricket here a month later then I can understand the criticism. But for six or seven months I didn't bowl a single ball - not even in street cricket. I was really injured - who wants to miss cricket for a whole year? This year we've played mainly one-dayers and not Tests. If it was the case that I didn't want to play Tests, then why would I miss all these one-dayers. Till the time I was unfit, my performances were so good that I could not have been dropped for lack of wickets. If I don't want to play Test matches, then why have I played four first-class games now? And look at the Zimbabwe team we were to play against last year when I came back. It was like a school team. Why would I want to miss out on 15-16 wickets from two Tests? Just for the record let me say it - I want to play Tests and one-dayers for India.

Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo