Nehra: ‘Age is not a factor’

"Look at me. I played Ranji Trophy at the age of 17 and the next year played for India. At 25, I was out of Test cricket for reasons beyond my control. Many people had written me off or have had serious doubts whether I could keep playing. But, at 37 now, I am playing and only recently made a comeback into the Indian team for the Asia Cup and the World T20," says Ashish Nehra.

Coach Gary Kirsten (left) seen with Ashish Nehra during a fitness test at the Ferozeshah Kotla in New Delhi on August 10, 2009. Kirsten and captain Dhoni asked Nehra whether he was willing to play Test cricket then. Nehra was in two minds and that cost him a place in the Test team.   -  RAJEEV BHATT

Virat Kohli's hunger for success is what's driving him, says Nehra.   -  AKHILESH KUMAR

Ashish Nehra gave an insight into his journey in the cricketing world during an hour-long TV talk show with ABP News. He fielded an array of questions from select media in Hyderabad during the on-going Indian Premier League.

“Every human being makes some mistakes. I think I committed the biggest of them all when Dhoni (Indian cricket captain) and Gary Kirsten (coach) asked me about my willingness to play Test cricket in 2009. Then, I told them I would wait for some more time before taking a call. In hindsight, I think I should not have said that,” Nehra said even as there was a tinge of disappointment when he referred to the fact that he played his last Test match for India way back in 2006.

“I think the more difficult thing is to come back into the Indian team after a gap than making a debut. For even while you are richer in experience, you are older too, but you know the pressure factors better,” he said.

“I did not play more than 17 Tests (between 1999-2004), not because I did not want to. That is a question which I cannot answer, but, obviously, I did not figure in the scheme of things,” Nehra pointed out.

Asked whether he was not in the good books of the big bosses in the BCCI or the media to get the kind of support he deserved when he was younger, Nehra remarked: “I am not sure about this. But I can say with all respects to some in the media, that it never always projects things in the proper perspective. Anyhow, you will be surprised to note that I only glance through the headlines on the sports pages. I never read or watch on TV what people say about me.

“In fact, you won’t believe that I have watched only about 10 per cent of the matches India has played in, in the recent past,” he added.

“I definitely feel age is not a factor in any cricketer’s career. Look at me. I played Ranji Trophy at the age of 17 and the next year played for India. At 25, I was out of Test cricket for reasons beyond my control. Many people had written me off or have had serious doubts whether I could keep playing. But, at 37 now, I am playing and only recently made a comeback into the Indian team for the Asia Cup and the World T20,” Nehra explained.

“Well, my line of thinking is simple. Age should not be a criterion for selection. If someone is good at 45 and better than a 25-year-old cricketer, the former should be given preference. Look at Brad Hogg of KKR, who is playing brilliantly even now in the IPL at 45,” he reasoned.

“Cricket was not my first love. In fact, I started playing the game very late in my career. I started loving football ever since I watched the 1986 World Cup in Mexico where Maradona scored that ‘Hand of God’ goal. And, even now, my favourite team is Argentina. I love watching football and rarely watch cricket,” said Nehra.

Asked whether Indian cricketers in general have become intolerant to certain questions, Nehra did not agree. “It depends on how each individual looks at the given situation. It is like this, if you like someone like Virat Kohli you love his aggression and if you don’t like someone like Gautam Gambhir, who is equally passionate about his game, you call the same bouts of aggression as frustration. It depends on your perception,” he explained.

Referring to M. S. Dhoni’s retort to a journalist during the T20 World Cup (after the India-Bangladesh match) that from the latter’s tone, he was not happy about India winning, a smiling Nehra reasserted that this was another example of how the media can look at things differently. “You are seeing Dhoni commenting like that for the first time. So, you start feeling that Captain Cool is losing his cool and things like that. The fact is that Dhoni has his own style of captaincy and handling things which many have not seen earlier,” he said.

 

“What separates Kohli from the others in contemporary cricket is his hunger. The kind of hard work and preparation and the very strict diet he maintains. I am not saying that other cricketers don’t train hard. But, having seen Kohli from childhood, I can say that his hunger for success — he is not one to take in his stride his dismissal even after a big knock — sets him apart from the others. He wants success every time he enters the field,” Nehra explained.

What was the biggest challenge for Nehra in his comeback to the Indian team? “Fortunately, I had great support from my parents and family. They kept believing that I would play for India again. And, importantly, I kept working really hard, bowling for hours. Yes, it was never easy for me, but the passion was what really helped me realise my goal of making it back to the Indian team,” he pointed out.

“Well, now I would like to take my career month by month. Now the focus is on the IPL for the next few weeks. Then think of other things,” he said.

“I would have loved to play more Test matches. Yes, it is a matter of regret that I last played one when I was just 25. Now, look at India playing about 16 Test matches in the next 12 months. This has not happened earlier,” he said.

On the issue of shifting the IPL matches out of Maharashtra because of the prevailing drought conditions, Nehra countered: “Does this solve the problem? We are not disputing the gravity of the crisis. But, as a cricketer I believe that the decision not to have matches in Mumbai and Pune was the solution. There are many places where big lawns are maintained even now and many schools.”

Referring to playing under Sourav Ganguly and M. S. Dhoni, Nehra said it was always difficult to make a comparison. “And, obviously, I cannot say where one is better than the other. Their styles are different. Yes, when Sourav was leading, we just followed his gameplan. In the case of Dhoni, because of the experience gained by us, it was more interactive and different. But remember both hated to lose,” he pointed out. “In terms of handling pressure, Dhoni is the best captain I have played under,” he added.

On sledging, Nehra said that many cricketers tend to be expressive on the field in some given situations. But, there is always a limit which no one should cross. “As far as I am concerned, I am always a soft-going cricketer. And definitely with the kind of technology available, whatever happens out there in the middle is known to the outside world,” he commented.

Nehra also felt that there is place for classicists even in the T20 format. “Look who are the mentors of Delhi Daredevils (Rahul Dravid), Mumbai Indians (Sachin Tendulkar) and Sunrisers Hyderabad (V. V. S. Laxman). Even though Laxman may not have played too many T20 games, he knows what the format is all about and his experience is invaluable,” he explained.

“There is always a misconception that only Pakistan produces fast bowlers and India quality batsmen. This is said conveniently forgetting the contribution of the likes of Kapil Dev, Javagal Srinath, Zaheer, Irfan and now Varun Aaron and Umesh Yadav,” Nehra replied to a query.

How does he feel being called Nehraji? “Oh! I was asked the same question somewhere else also. And this again is a reminder of the popularity of the game on TV where fans tend to remember small things. I think it was Viru who started off calling me Nehraji. Now, I hear a few fans from the stands address me like that. It is funny definitely,” he said.

Referring to the general perception that cricketers are rarely perfect role models when it comes to charity, Nehra said he disagreed with the view. “I know many cricketers who are into charity in a big way, but without any publicity. It is not always like showing the world what you are doing,” he said.

Interestingly, Nehra revealed that he doesn’t even have a mail id and that his wife handles all the communication. “I don’t have a passion for the social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter too,” he concluded with a big smile.

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