‘If you are out for so long, people forget’
By Ayon Sengupta
Regular visits to the doctor’s table cut short a once highly-rated international career for Ashish Nehra. After making his international debut in 1999 during a Test series against Sri Lanka, Nehra came into the reckoning during the tour to Zimbabwe is 2001 and was instrumental in India picking their first Test series win away from the sub-continent in 15 years.
He enhanced his reputation as one of the most promising new-ball bowlers – as his toe-crushing late in-swingers, coupled with pace and deadly accuracy harassed the best in the world.
“That was like bowling in a dream. But I was unlucky to get injured during the wrong time of my career,” he says. Fragile and with a slightly doggy run-up, he was always susceptible to injuries and hence his first stint at the top level was fruitful but brief.
A match-winning six for 23 against England at the World Cup in South Africa in 2003 – the high point of this reign –was followed by his first ankle surgery. Before he recovered fully, Nehra was down with a back injury, but played nevertheless. Midway into the 2005 series in Zimbabwe the same injury forced him to take the flight back home. And another surgery followed in 2006 for a torn ligament followed by an ankle surgery the next year.
“The two-year period between 2006 and 2007 was scary. I was recovering from one injury before being pulled into another,” Nehra recalls. “It would be five to six months, but I was still not playing, while everybody else was. And in today’s world if you are out for so long, people forget. You are just out.”
But words of wisdom from fellow speedster Zaheer Khan kept up his spirits. “He (Zaheer) constantly kept in touch and would encourage me to stay positive. He himself had a layoff outside the national side but came back strongly and would always bring that instance up in every conversation,” Nehra says. “Zaheer always said: ‘Don’t be greedy to play for India without getting out of the injury completely’. I am happy I listened to him in the end.”
And surely the advice paid off. After a decent IPL I with Mumbai Indians, Nehra switched sides and along with Dirk Nannes formed a dangerous opening pairing for Delhi Daredevils, picking up 19 wickets in 13 outings. He shouldered the workload, bowling 51 overs out of a maximum 52 in his 13 games in the month-long tournament. And, for a change, showed no fatigue and was rewarded with a rare India call-up for the four-match One Day International tour to the West Indies.
“Earlier I would play even if the injury was bad. But now I don’t play if something is bothering me. I would fix it before coming back,” the more experienced fast bowler says.
The left-armer, still young at 30, has the potential to be the strike bowler for the country again and in the absence of Zaheer Khan and an erratic state-mate Ishant Sharma for company, one won’t be surprised if skipper M.S. Dhoni falls back on Nehra’s experience to lead the Indian charge in the Caribbean isles.
“I have the experience to shoulder any responsibility and would like to contribute in every way the team management wants me,” he adds with an air of new-found confidence.