New Delhi: Before 12 surgeries, before countless comebacks, even before the 6 for 23 against England in World Cup 2003, a tall 18-year-old lad entered the vicinity of Delhi cricket in the summers of 1997 with only one desire – to run in and bowl.
20 years down the line, that Delhi lad is preparing to bowl one last spell, not for his state side, but for India, in the opening T20I of the three-match series against New Zealand at the Feroz Shah Kotla.
On November 1, Ashish Nehra would bid adieu to international cricket on his own terms, something that remained an unfulfilled dream of many of his former teammates. But the story would not have panned out the same way had the stars not been in his favour way back in 1997, the year in which Nehra made his Ranji Trophy debut. But which talent flourishes without a little backing?
Hari Gidwani, who has played over 100 first class matches and was a member of the selection committee during the ‘97-98 season, recalls the struggle he had to get Nehra into the Delhi Ranji Trophy side.
“Nehra was a fine young talent. He was getting batsmen out at will in the U-19 level. I thought this boy should not be wasted and immediately pushed for his selection in the senior side. It was not easy at all, I almost picked up a fight with my colleagues, but eventually got my way,” said Gidwani, who still happens to be a member of the Delhi selection committee.
“Some believed I was pushing for him because he was from the Sonnet Cricket Club. I still don’t understand how it mattered.”
For the record, the Sonnet Cricket Club, founded by a former cricketer Tarak Sinha was the ‘Gurukul’ of many India internationals like Raman Lamba, Manoj Prabhakar, Ajay Sharma, Atul Wassan. Later on Nehra, Aakasha Chopra, Shikhar Dhawan and the latest, Rishab Pant would go on to extend that list. Not to forget over a 100 first class cricketers who went to represent Delhi, UP, Railways, Bihar, Haryana and Rajasthan in various seasons of Ranji Trophy.
Coming back to Nehra and his first class debut, he was in elite company in the Delhi team. Atul Wassan, playing his last match and Robin Singh (junior) were his fast bowling partners against Haryana, led by Ajay Jadeja but the tall sleek lad still managed to leave his mark – with big sharp in swingers.
“I still remember Nehra’s in swing that uprooted Ajay Jadeja’s stumps. He was taken aback by the amount of swing. Coming to think of it that was the most impressive part of his bowling. He was not express by any means but he had a natural delivery that swung miles into the right hander,” said Gidwani.
Nehra’s in-coming delivery, which accounted for Jadeja in the second innings also, would turn into a nightmare for many stalwarts at the international level.
The old school Nehra though knew only swing won’t be suffice. He increased his average speed by 7-8 km/h, following strict fitness regime derived all by himself. It may raise a few eyebrows as to how that same Nehra could fall prey to multiple injuries that cut his career short. Gidwani has a different take on that.
“He is one of the fittest players going around, make no mistake. He can still pass the YoYo test with flying colours. He was unfortunate to get paralysed with injuries. A lot of it was because he did not have modern coaches to guide him. In any case he believed in his own methods,” informed Gidwani.
The in swings or the impressive outing against Haryana on debut was not the end of Nehra’s struggles. He was ignored for the next two games before staging a comeback as early as the second match of his career against Jammu and Kashmir with match figures of 7 for 110. That as many would know was the start of his long battle as he would go on to stage countless successful comebacks for India in a career spanning 18 years.
On Tuesday evening Ashish Nehra’s 18-year long career would come to an end or as Gidwani and many of his followers would believe, it will begin in another way.