One with loads of ability

Ashish Nehra fulfilled the promise he had held out for so long. — Pic. AFP-

HE was quite the biggest puzzle in Indian cricket. Just about everyone knew here was a bowler with loads of ability. But then, he seldom got it all together. Sprinkled with some testing deliveries would be a few loose offerings. Ashish Nehra was injury-prone and lacked consistency. The left-armer could be sharp, was a genuine swinger of the cricket ball, however, his career, at least till the World Cup, raised more questions than answers.

The Delhi cricketer was an underachiever all right, yet one important man had plenty of faith in him. Skipper Sourav Ganguly believed in Nehra.

Ganguly had backed Nehra, through thick and thin, and the pressure clearly was on the Delhi cricketer — he just could not afford to let his captain down in the World Cup. For Nehra, the time had come to deliver.

There were some encouraging signs in the New Zealand tour, where Nehra did find his rhythm during the ODI series, getting the deliveries to buzz around, without adequate rewards. Yet, there was no place for him, at least in the initial stages of the World Cup, the team-management inclined to play both spinners, Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh. Nehra bided his time from the sidelines.

And when he finally received a chance in the third game against Zimbabwe at Harare, he charged in, generated impressive speeds around the 150 kmph-mark, however, erred in line, and went for runs.

Worse, before the crunch day-night game at Durban, where the Indians faced off with the Englishmen, Nehra had aggravated an ankle injury. He was a doubtful starter, and there was considerable pressure on the team-management for the re-inclusion of Kumble.

Ganguly stood by his man. The Indians won an important toss, reached 250, and when England began the chase, under lights, and with the ball jagging around, they were bound to feel the heat. Javagal Srinath produced a brilliant but luckless spell, Zaheer Khan trapped Marcus Trescothick leg-before, and Nick Knight was brilliantly run out by Mohammed Kaif. Then it was all Nehra. Rarely has an Indian bowler dominated an ODI in such a manner. Nehra had braved his injury for one more fling at elusive glory, and fortune does favour the brave.

And on a night charged with emotions at the Kingsmead, he fulfilled the promise he had held out for long. Nehra, at last, embraced super success.

The dice was heavily loaded in favour of the paceman when the lights were switched on, however, Nehra did make the most of the conditions, hitting the ideal length, and making his deliveries swing both ways from over the wicket.

Nehra is a natural inswing bowler, and the hapless English batsmen had little clue about the deliveries holding their line, or jagging away from them. They were consumed by self-doubts, before they were consumed by Nehra; pushing forward more in hope than conviction, or playing back and being nailed by the left-armer. His new-found speed — Nehra attributes much of the credit to fitness trainer Adrian le Roux - provided the cutting edge to his bowling, the combination of pace and swing proving lethal. Nasser Hussain's men were eventually bundled out for 168, and a crunch game was won by a mile

And Nehra lived his own dream, scalping six for 23 in ten explosive overs; the best figures by any Indian bowler in the World Cup. He celebrated in style, gliding in the manner of an aircraft, after every strike. Ashish Nehra flew high that night at the Kingsmead. — S. Dinakar