Ashish Nehra, who was recently recalled to the Indian squad for the upcoming T20 series in Australia, has urged greater consistency in the selection of fast bowlers for national duty. Speaking to ESPNcricinfo, Nehra said that it was important to "look after and nurture" fast bowlers to ensure they can have an extended stint at the international level.
"For ODIs and T20s, you have to choose your five-six bowlers, that these are the guys we are going to back," Nehra said. "I know it is very difficult sometimes for the captain and selectors; sometimes when you lose series you are picking different bowlers and nobody settles in. Injuries are a major part of fast bowling as well, like we've seen with [Mohammed] Shami, Ishant [Sharma] and Mohit [Sharma]. Even if you see Australia right now, Nathan Coluter-Nile, [Mitchell] Starc and [Pat] Cummins are all injured, so Australia is almost playing with their second string of bowlers.
"If somebody says India doesn't have talent, I won't agree. But the only thing is you have to look after them well, nurture and support them. When Test cricket is not on and you have three-four bowlers who only play T20s and ODIs, you have to keep an eye on them. How to look after fast bowlers is very important, if you want them to sustain for 10-12 years and play for India. When they are young, 90% of fast bowlers don't know what to do. When they mature, sometimes it's too late."
"If I go to Australia and play the World T20 and deliver, people will say 'Oh he should have been there earlier. If I don't people will say it was right that they didn't pick him!' That's how it works in India."
Nehra last played for India in the semi-final of the victorious 2011 World Cup campaign against Pakistan. After missing the final due to a finger injury, he was overlooked for nearly five years before being recalled on the back of an impressive IPL season, where he finished fourth on the wicket-takers list with 22 scalps from 16 games. Nehra, who will turn 37 in April, admitted that while the disappointment of being ignored for such a long period will linger, he is looking to make the most of this opportunity on the home stretch of his career.
"I was surprised when they weren't picking me for the last two-three years to be honest," he said. "Better late than never, hopefully I can do well, I am just working hard. If I go to Australia and play the World T20 and deliver, people will say 'Oh he should have been there earlier.' If I don't, people will say, 'It was right that they didn't pick him!' That's how it works in India. Whatever is gone is gone, I am just looking forward and hopefully everything will go my way.
"I have always worked hard to play international cricket. Once you have been there, you know how much pleasure you get playing for India. There were times when it was very difficult for me to motivate myself, despite not being picked, to go to the gym or ground and train. It was difficult. Age is just a number for me. If you can keep yourself fit, you can keep playing."
Since featuring in the IPL final for Chennai Super Kings in May, Nehra hasn't played much competitive cricket. Over this domestic season he has played only one game of the 50-over Vijay Hazare Trophy and two games of the ongoing Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 Trophy for his state team Delhi.
He will not be playing in the Super League stage of the Mushtaq Ali tournament starting later this week despite making himself available as Delhi has decided to give its younger bowlers a run. Nehra though isn't worried about the lack of match practice leading into the series in Australia.
"Some people really want match practice, I am among those who wants a lot of practice," he explained. "Most of the time I like to practice in open nets, so I get the same kind of feeling. If I am bowling well in the nets or to a single wicket, I get that confidence, that's how I have been playing for the last seven-eight years, this is not the first time I will be doing it.
"People say T20 is a young man's game, all those theories I don't believe in. You have to be on top of your game, especially as a bowler and the kind of job I do, bowling two-three of the first six overs and one or two in the last four. In the sub-continent or outside also these days, wickets will be flat. You have to be physically fit and mentally strong, especially as a bowler. It's a fast game but I have been playing IPL, and that's a big boost. The intensity is as good as international cricket."
Nehra has identified being selected for the World T20 as his major "goal" before taking a call on his international future. He is also eager to mentor India's emerging crop of fast bowlers on his return to the dressing room after this long hiatus.
"This is a short tour, but whatever little I can help the youngsters, I will," he says. "If I can play till the World T20, I will definitely look at that job, I have done it for CSK and I really enjoyed it. Most of the bowlers have different strengths, but you can't buy experience. I made my debut 17 years ago. In the sub-continent, somebody like me, who has had so many injuries, undergone 10-12 surgeries, still standing there and playing the fastest format of all, it has taught me something which I can pass on to the youngsters and give my experience."
Gaurav Kalra is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo. @gauravkalra75