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Ashish Nehra: 'When you're 23, you're fearless'

Neither an injury nor a tournament final could worry the young India left-armer in 2003, and he still holds the best innings figures by an Indian in a World Cup

Ashish Nehra
Ashish Nehra took career-best figures in the crucial 2003 World Cup game against England  •  Getty Images

Ashish Nehra took career-best figures in the crucial 2003 World Cup game against England  •  Getty Images

My World Cup almost ended before it had even started. I was not picked to play India's first two matches. Then I opened the bowling against Namibia in Pietermartizburg. I slipped and got injured, having bowled just one ball.
I was worried about how long it would take for me to recover and was not sure about making it for our match against England.
I remember going to Kingsmead in the morning for a fitness test and fortunately passing it. Our physio, Andrew Leipus, and trainer, Adrian Le Roux, had worked hard for three to four days to get me back on the field as quickly as possible and I couldn't thank them enough.
Had we lost against England, it would have become difficult to qualify for the Super Six stage. I had been bowling well going into the tournament and that helped me in this match. I finished with career-best figures of 6 for 23 - still the best bowling performance by an Indian in a World Cup. There are few moments during a cricketer's career that everybody remembers and that became mine.
Those six weeks were really exciting. We were a good blend of youngsters and experienced players, with a very healthy atmosphere in the dressing room. That played a big role in us reaching the final.
When you are 23 years old, you are fearless. You don't feel pressure, you don't care about being dropped for a match. You just play. Me, Viru [Virender Sehwag], Yuvraj [Singh], Bhajji [Harbhajan Singh], Mohammad Kaif and Dinesh Mongia were in the same age group, and we combined nicely with Tendulkar, Dravid, Kumble, Srinath and Ganguly, who had played in more than one World Cup. You need experience in your line-up in a World Cup and we had that.
Having said that, I was nervous the day before the final. Deep down, you do acknowledge it was a special day. And it did turn out to be special for Australia and Ricky Ponting, who hit a magnificent century. The way Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden started and then Damien Martyn and Ponting continued, a lesson was definitely learnt.
The total of 360 was too much ten years ago. If we had bundled them out for 315, we would have had a chance on that pitch, especially with the way Viru was batting.
Overall, I felt really good with my bowling. Considering I did not play the first two matches and then ended up as the tenth best bowler in the tournament, I thought I had done well.
I went on to play one more World Cup. Playing in India and winning in 2011, you can't get it better. But 2003 will remain equally special.
As told to Nagraj Gollapudi