Superb transformation

Ashish Nehra... back where he belongs.-V. V. KRISHNAN

After slipping a long way down the pecking order, Ashish Nehra has rallied so impressively that he has become the leader of the pack, writes Peter Roebuck.

Ashish Nehra’s rise from wastrel to warrior ought to inform and inspire all those seeking to climb the cricketing ladder. Not too long ago the lofty lefty seemed doomed to drift into cricketing nothingness. He appeared determined to make as much money as possible whilst breaking sweat. Anyhow that’s the way he came across to observers. Certainly he seemed to prefer the little money spinners to the hard slogs, twenty over trivialities to the toil of Test match cricket.

In short he was a soft touch. Hard heads regarded him with a mixture of dismay and scorn. Nehra’s talent was unmistakable. He had the lot; height, pace, bounce, movement. Everything except stamina, heart and determination. Captains kept picking him hoping he’d deliver the goods. Coaches urged him along. Selectors could see the potential. Alas he often let them down. He was a likeable enough fellow but lacked the character and ambition needed to become a top-class paceman. Particularly in India, fast bowling is tough work. Nehra was prepared to coast along, collecting the takings, ducking the challenge. Frankly it was hard to see him ever fulfilling his talent.

Meanwhile others came along, cricketers made of sterner stuff. Nehra drifted not so much onto the rocks as towards oblivion.

Nowadays another and much more satisfying tale can be told. After slipping a long way down the pecking order, the genial southpaw has rallied so impressively that he has become the leader of the pack. Admittedly Zaheer Khan was injured but he might have been hard pressed to outbowl his pal in recent months. The transformation has been superb. At some point Nehra left his dream world, put aside his laziness and decided to apply himself. As much could be gleaned from his efforts in a Ranji Trophy match staged in Delhi. It was a hot day but the beanpole did not flag, rushing to the crease in his energetic way, whirling over his arm and causing all sorts of difficulties. He may resemble a giraffe but with ball in hand he becomes a gazelle. It was a fine performance and the first hint that the speedster was a changed man.

Now his praises are sung all over the place. His IPL coaches talk about his skill, honesty and grit. Apparently he dropped a sitter at a critical moment in one match and afterwards apologised to his team-mates. Not many high flyers think along those lines. His colleagues admire his ability to adapt to different conditions. On fast tracks he will pull back his length and hit the shoulder of the bat. On slow decks he uses his slower ball and brings the batsmen forward. He has earned the respect of comrades and opponents alike. Delhi Daredevils ought to make him or Dinesh Karthik captain.

In Indian colours, too, Nehra’s stocks have risen exponentially. Discarded long ago, he has fought back to become the leading pace bowler in a powerful team. Previously sceptical captains feel they can rely on him. The ball is thrown to him whenever a wicket is urgently needed. It’s a lesson for all of us. Retain opinions. Avoid judgements.

Meanwhile other speedsters fall back. Zaheer is back after injury, Sreesanth’s recall seems premature, R. P. Singh has waxed and waned and Ishant Sharma has lost rhythm. All of them could learn something from Nehra’s restoration. For that matter so could the drifters and dreamers amongst aspiring batsmen. In the end it’s not about the wealth. It’s about the cricket. No amount of money can make up for the feeling that more could have been accomplished. Ultimately it’s not the taking, it’s the giving.