Let's play the swansong, in Nehra's beats

After the 2011 World Cup semifinal, incidentally against Pakistan, Nehra was lost to the cricket world despite being the best of the 11 bowlers in that match barring Wahab Riaz.

The champion bowler was a captain’s delight. He would bowl at the start and the death overs too. Sometimes finishing his ten overs in four spells. “Doing the dirty job.”   -  PTI

Twelve years after he last bowled for India in a Test, Ashish Nehra will make his final international appearance at the very ground where he took baby steps in an eventful cricket career.

His last Test appearance was against Pakistan at Rawalpindi in 2004. “I was only 25,” he smiles. After the 2011 World Cup semifinal, incidentally against Pakistan, Nehra was lost to the cricket world despite being the best of the 11 bowlers in that match barring Wahab Riaz.

Mysteriously, Nehra never figured in an ODI team thereafter. Even the national selectors would not come on record to admit to instructions from a top cricket official not to pick this crafty left-arm seamer. Nehra took it in his stride, continued to work on a comeback, and ultimately did, at 37, in a format that is best advertised as a platform for the youth.

READ: Nehra set to retire from international cricket

Now he has decided to take a bow from the game. At 39, Nehra will be part of the India T20 team against New Zealand at the Ferozeshah Kotla. For the first time in his career, his parents – Sumitra and Diwan Singh Nehra – will watch him play at the ground after following is exploits only through television or newspapers.

READ: Nehra, Shikhar in T20I squad; Rahane misses

A group of special friends will be in attendance at the Kotla to cheer him. VVS Laxman, Virender Sehwag, Zaheer Khan, Yuvraj Singh, Ajay Jadeja, Ajit Agarkar will be present to watch the match. “He was a great inspiration. I have not seen a more hard-working cricketer than Ashish,” remarked Laxman. “I never thought he would enjoy such longevity because of his injury-prone body and a bio-mechanically incorrect bowling action. To me, he was a fantastic mentor (at India, Delhi and Sunrisers Hyderabad) and a tremendous impact player. His skills were unmatched.”

READ: Nehra: ‘If I do well, it’s news, if I don’t do well, bigger news’

“I wanted to play more Tests. I am not a numbers man but yes more Tests would have been nice. I should have played much more matches but for my injuries. Depends on how you look at it – half glass empty or half glass full. But I have been very fortunate. How many make a comeback at 37. I will be retiring in blue colours,” Nehra said.

The four years away from cricket were the most painful. “I got tremendous support from Zak (Zaheer Khan) and Jad (Jaddeja). They were more confident than me. This friendship and the respect I got in the (current) dressing room is what I’ve gained from the game. My USP was making comebacks (after 12 surgeries),” the pride in his voice not to be missed.

READ: Azharuddin: ‘Nehra could have played more Tests’

In his opinion, Nehra moulded himself very well. “I was at ease with Mr Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin (Tendulkar) and Kuldeep (Yadav). I enjoyed the company of the younger players because they made me raise the bar. If they trained for two hours, I would put in an extra hour to keep pace. I really punished my body.”

On the secret of his long career which began in 1997, Nehra noted, “I played every match as if it was my last match. I have trained alone for hours (at Sonnet Club nets). I have also had a phase when I didn’t bowl a ball for six months. I was injured but never unfit. Foam roller, swimming, yoga, stretching, running, feet in ice bucket and hot water. You name it and I have done it.”

The champion bowler was a captain’s delight. He would bowl at the start and the death overs too. Sometimes finishing his ten overs in four spells. “Doing the dirty job.”

But always with a smile.