Call him a miracle man or a medical marvel, Ashish Nehra gave cricket fans plenty of joy with his incisive left-arm fast bowling.
As the 38-year-old Delhi speedster made it public that the T20 match against New Zealand at the Kotla on November 1 would be his last appearance, there was a big sense of disbelief.
For someone who has been part of the Indian cricket team for over 18 years with plenty of breaks in between due to the 12 surgeries he underwent, life has not been easy.
Fast bowling is as much an art as a science. Nearly every fast bowler around the world deals with injuries in his career. Some, who felt it would be futile to keep going through surgeries, rehab and the allied trauma, packed up before time.
Nehra's six for 23 against England in the 2003 World Cup will always be special. Photo: Reuters
Not Ashish Nehra. From the distance, if you look at him, his slight build would suggest he chose the wrong trade – fast bowling. Yet, if you have seen him in action, you will know how menacing he could be. As one who could make the ball move even at 140kmph in the air and off the pitch and uncurl that killer in-swinger, Nehra has been a joy to watch.
Fast bowlers usually have a debonair look. From Imran Khan to Dennis Lillee, they were icons in the art of fast bowling with killer looks. Nehra knew he did not have that kind of an aura and his toothy grin was not going to win him many commercial assignments. Yet, he continued to ply his trade relentlessly, coming back each time an injury seemed to write him off.
The recent T20 series against Australia was eminently forgettable and Nehra had made up his mind to pack up. When you say pack up, sportspersons usually leave one window open. In his case, in true Nehra style, he said he would give up all forms of cricket, including the cashrich Indian Premier League. Cricketers from Adam Gilchrist to lesser known names have liked to stick with the IPL for its lucrative benefits.
It could be only a maverick like Nehra who could call it curtains in one go.
So, what’s the big debate about how Nehra could actually get a final match from the Indian cricket board (BCCI) as a farewell. Well, many Indian cricketers before him never got a farewell match. Some were given shock treatment, as in to be never told by the selectors they were not needed. Despite having been a non-performer in the last part of his career, BCCI gave the God of Indian cricket, Sachin Tendulkar, the chance to walk away from international cricket in Mumbai in 2013.
If Tendulkar has been around for 25 years, Nehra’s 18-year contribution to Indian cricket in Tests, ODIs and T20s cannot be measured by sheer statistics. His six for 23 against England in the 2003 World Cup and the giant effort against Pakistan in the 2011 World Cup semifinals will be always special.
Nehra made a giant effort against Pakistan in the 2011 World Cup semifinals. Photo: Reuters
Yet, this man should be remembered as a captain’s bowler who could be banked upon. He used to open the attack, then used often in power plays and then come back at the end. In the shortest format, T20, which is easily the most demanding in every sense, Nehra was a bowler with a large heart with the icy cool temperament of a neurosurgeon.
So, when he had to pack up, it came so simply. Mind you, Nehra missed matches not because he was unfit but because he was out with injuries. Each sportsperson has a human side to his persona and Nehra is indeed special. Not many know certain traits in him which mark him out as a wonderful human. There is this instance of Nehra’s long-time coach Tarak Sinha of Sonnet Club once needing help as he had no money to pay rent as he had used that money for entry fee in a tournament.
Old-timers say Sinha, who has produced many illustrious cricketers, made the first call to Nehra. The disciple responded not by arranging money for rent but buying his guru an apartment to live in so that he would never have to worry about paying rents.
There is also this touching story about how once Sonnet Club was almost on the verge of shutdown. It had no money for equipment and paying tournament entry fees. Lion-hearted Nehra did the needful without ever seeking any publicity. To the contrary, he only told people he did not want these things publicised.
In an age where commerce and lure of the lucre can make sportspersons almost inert to others pains and problems, perhaps its Nehra’s own battles in life which have made him such a wonderful human.
They say fast bowlers are mean. In Nehra’s case, the word "mean” can apply only to his bowling economy rate. So what if he never got modelling assignments, Nehra has been a true role model in real life.
(Courtesy of Mail Today)