Ashish Nehra talks about his body as if it lives in a world of its own, outside of him. He doesn't seem to like it very much and he is convinced his body doesn't like him back. Now, as they find themselves in Ranchi to play for India, body and him together, Nehra ponders what might have been if only they had been better friends all these years. This body of his that has gone under the surgeon's knife no less than 12 times, that is often unwilling to be dragged out of bed, that he pushes, cajoles and threatens, just so he can extract the last remnants of cricket life from it.
"The only one thing that is not happy that I am still playing is my body," Nehra chuckles, while speaking to ESPNcricinfo from Delhi before leaving for the series. "I can play for another couple of years but it isn't easy for a fast bowler at 38-39, especially considering the state of my body. But I am just trying my level best.
"At times when I wake up, especially in the winter in Delhi, my knees are so sore, it is half an hour before I can even leave my bed and am able to walk. I have had four surgeries in my ankle, plus my knee is always sore. But again, after half an hour so I say it to myself that I have to do it. I am the kind of person that if I decide [I'll do] something, I have to do it. There's no rocket science to this. You have to give 3-4 hours of the day to your body, definitely you will get the result. Some may get it later, but in the end, you will.
"When you are young you don't understand these things, you don't understand the value of playing for India. In the last 7-8 years I missed so much cricket, maybe you can say I am trying to catch that up. You can never go back, but for the last 4-5 years I am pushing myself and I am getting the results. My body has let me down, that's why I am so upset with my body at times. I am a firm believer that if my body is okay I can still play and deliver. That's why I am always aware of my body."
Nehra can be a laugh riot. Asked about his unusual misfortune with repeated injuries one time, he is believed to have responded, "Body mein injury nahin hai, injury mein body phasi hui hai. (I don't have injuries in my body, my body is somewhere in the middle of those injuries)". This self-deprecating sense of humour has been an ally for Nehra well over a near two-decade long career that never quite scaled the heights it promised.
This year has been no different for Nehra and his body. After playing in in the three match T20I series against England, where he tasted moderate success, Nehra could only feature in six games for the Sunrisers Hyderabad before being ruled out with a hamstring problem. However, once healed, Nehra took no time to get back to the grind, devoting himself to a patented routine that has served him well over the years.
"This is not new for me, I have become used to it," he says. "I hear people say I got one surgery or two surgeries or I have a back spasm or a shoulder surgery and it will be difficult for me to come back. But I am always a firm believer in pushing yourself. Definitely you have to give more and more hours as you get older, you have to push yourself.
"I am someone who always prepares. Even if no one is there at the ground, I practice. I just need a wicketkeeper who can take my balls. I bowl a lot at a single wicket, I put pressure on myself. After bowling I will do some fielding. My practice sessions are not too long, they are an hour and a half to two hours. But I keep that intensity going so when I play the game I don't feel sore."
Nehra admits he isn't sure "how long I can play for" and isn't looking much further than the immediate challenge of these three games against Australia. He doesn't rule out some sort of coaching role in the future as he likes to "share experience." In the short term though, Nehra is eager to work alongside the other seam bowlers in the squad - Bhuvneswar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah and Hardik Pandya - and simply make the most of the time he, and his rebellious body, have left in the game.
"If they want to ask me something, whatever little bit knowledge or experience I have, I will definitely share with them," he says. "All three of them have been doing well in the last few months. I have played with Bhuvi at Sunrisers for the last two years. He has a good head on his shoulders, and is one of the better thinkers of the game. Bumrah has been a fantastic one-day and T20 bowler and I believe that in the years to come he will be able to do well even in Test cricket. Pandya, everyone knew he was very talented and it's good to see him convert talent into performances. He is an asset for the team.
"For me it is another game, I have been playing for so many years so my experience will be handy for myself. I always back myself to do well. Even if you play every day, there will always be butterflies, there will always be pressure.
"At this stage, I don't make plans. [I take] every series as it comes, I can't promise anything about whether I will be playing the next IPL. I don't know how long I can play for. Like I said earlier, if it was in my hands I would never stop playing cricket but that is not going to happen. My debut was in 1999, so it will be 19 years soon. I don't think too many people thought I would be playing for 19 years. Already, I have managed to stretch myself so far, you never know, let's see."