Nehra: 'Kohli worked hard at the right time'

Ashish Nehra, who is set to begin his new journey as coach in the upcoming IPL, talks mental strength, the importance of communication with players and returning to football at training sessions.

Ashish Nehra made an international to the Indian cricket team at the age of 37.   -  M. Karunakaran

Having played under six captains, starting with Mohammad Azharuddin in 1999, Ashish Nehra, automatically became ‘Nehra ji’ — a respected senior — on his comeback to the Indian cricket team at the age of 37 in 2016.

Known to fight injuries and surgeries with a smile, Nehra made T20 cricket the medium to stage his comeback. The left-arm pacer picked up 21 wickets in 18 games at an average of 21.67 in the final phase of his career; he hung up his boots in November last year.

But 10 years of Indian Premier League (IPL) experience brought him back into the fold. The loved ‘senior’ is set to begin his new journey as the bowling coach of Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) in the upcoming season. Before the action begins in April, Sporstar had a candid chat with the speedster on life after retirement, challenges in the new role and the fundamentals of bowling in the shortest format.


How has life been after retirement? How often do you train these days?

I am not training like I used to, I am not doing weights but I do cardio to maintain fitness. I love running. The stomach has come out a bit after retirement as I am having biryanis and parathas at home (laughs). But I need to be fit to play football with the RCB team (he avoided football when he was playing for India recently to avoid injuries).

In T20 cricket, you have only four overs, does that limit plans of setting-up a batsman?

It’s a fast game and there are skill sets. But you have to be mentally strong also. You are going to go for runs. You have to put bad days behind and move forward as every two days, there is a new game and it is a long tournament. Since I played the IPL for 10 years, I will share my experience with the boys. All our bowlers — Umesh Yadav, Navdeep Saini, Mohammad Siraj, Washington Sundar and Yuzvendra Chahal to name a few — are talented.

Nehra has joined forces with Daniel Vettori at Royal Challengers Bangalore as a bowling coach for the 2018 IPL.   -  K. Murali Kumar


Even the ground matters a lot in the IPL...

It definitely plays a role. At times, it is difficult to defend a total in Bengaluru. I have seen teams chase down 190 to 200 easily. It will not be easy for our bowlers. If it is a flat wicket, you have to be mentally strong. The bowlers should keep all the deliveries in their armory ready and they should know which ball to bowl to which batsman. It is all about planning. Every ground, you have to bowl according to the batsman and the ground.

‘Usually, a coach keeps talking and the players listen. But I also want them to talk. I want to know their thinking before I tell them mine’

How challenging is the role of a coach? Your communication skills should be coming handy…

I am not getting to spend eight or 10 months with the boys, if I had that time, I could have taught different things to change their outlook. Here, I have two months, so it is about small alterations. I want to read their mind and their point of view. Usually, a coach keeps talking and the players listen. But I also want them to talk. I want to know their thinking before I tell them mine.

And it’s not even six months since you retired…

Exactly, so I will also think as a player as to what I may expect from the coach. What I learnt in the last six or seven years is more than what I did in the first 12 years of my career. My job is to try and teach them as quick as possible. Ultimately, it is their show. I will be sitting in the dugout.

Nehra bid goodbye to international cricket in November last year.   -  AP


What kind of a bowler suits the T20 format best?

If you have pace, it’s good. But there are many swing bowlers also. Someday, the ball will swing, someday it won’t, especially in hot conditions like in the month of March and April. But line-and-length is the key in any format. At times, you may not be able to touch 140 kmph but even if you bowl 130 kmph sticking to the line-and-length, it won’t matter if the conditions are tough. It is a mixture of all that is needed, and a good mind.

How much of a role will head coach Daniel Vettori play in the bowling department?

Daniel has been helping the RCB bowlers as he has been with the franchise for some years now. Chahal spent enough time with Daniel and you can see his confidence today, especially in this format. We are all one set-up. I have been a No. 11 batsman all my life, but that doesn’t mean I don’t understand batting. How will I get the batsman out if I didn’t understand batting? If I see a batsman is not doing a right thing according to me, I should be able to tell him.

Dinesh Karthik, who made his debut when you were at your peak, had a second coming with a maverick knock, 29 off 8 balls, recently. How much of an impact you think he would have in the IPL?

Karthik has been around for 13 years, but unfortunately, he didn’t manage to play that many games for India. There was competition, but M.S. Dhoni has been so good. But Karthik has the ability. He has all the shots in his bag. He plays spin very well. Skill-wise, he was always up there. But for me, even if he hadn’t scored 29 off 8, he wouldn’t have changed. I don’t like people comparing him with Dhoni suddenly after finishing one game. You can’t compare him to somebody who has been doing it for the last 10 years.

Do you see him as an India regular?

If I can play at 39 as a fast bowler, he can easily play for five or six years but now it is all up to him. He has to keep performing. If there is an ODI or a T20 cricket in England, he will be there. When you go for the World Cup, you need a second wicketkeeper too.

What is the secret behind Virat Kohli – the brand? You’ve literally seen him grow up…

He is one guy who started working hard at the right time. Every cricketer’s life has a time, if you grab that opportunity, you can go miles. If you miss it, it becomes difficult to reach that level. After 2011, he completely changed his fitness plans. He is not the guy who would score two hundreds and take a backseat in the third game. Not that everybody can score three hundreds back-to-back but he wants to. He doesn’t take things for granted.



He was quite chubby in 2011…

In 2011, he was chubby, in 2013 he became less chubby and by 2015, his face and mine were same (laughs). He is particular about what he eats, and he trains a lot. He has made sacrifices that people haven’t seen, for example, sleeping (and) waking up on time. The result is in front of him. Everybody has talent, but you need to work hard to take the talent to a different level. Kohli has changed, gone up as a player and a person, and he is a mature guy. Rohit Sharma and K.L. Rahul are also talented. Rahul must be 25, so it is the right time for him to step up. Kings XI Punjab picked him for Rs. 11 crore and shown faith in him.

You had passed the Yo-Yo test among many youngsters who couldn’t…

When it comes to running, I am good as I still run. If you give me one month’s time and ask me to do Yo Yo, I will do at least 70 per cent of it. I can finish fourth or fifth even now in a team of 15. In 2009, when Gary (Kirsten) was the coach of India, he used to run much more than me. These days, he is cycling for 100kms every alternate day. It’s his passion. It is all about your liking. I enjoy doing cardio, so when I have biryani, I feel good (laughs).

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