Many Injuries & Many Comebacks, But There’s Only One Ashish Nehra
Ashish Nehra is playing his career’s final game on 1 November against New Zealand.
Ashish Nehra is playing his career’s final game on 1 November against New Zealand.(Photo: The Quint)

Many Injuries & Many Comebacks, But There’s Only One Ashish Nehra

Eighteen years of international cricket, multiple comebacks and many career highs – Ashish Nehra has lived the cricket dream. A dream that he has chose to drive off into the sunset, with his career’s final game on 1 November, in front of his home fans at Delhi’s Ferozshah Kotla stadium.

A lot has been written about what Ashish has accomplished in his years as Indian cricket’s loyal servant, but what will Nehra ji put his mind to now that he doesn't have an India jersey to play for?

He may be seen on TV sharing some insights into cricket. Or he might take up the duty of dropping and picking his two beautiful kids from school. He may also finally go a little easy on his body, since there would be no immediate motivation to train and be ready for a match, series or a tournament.

All of these could be wrong. However, the one routine I don’t see Ashish veering too far away from are his trips to the Siri Fort Sports Complex in Delhi, with his family and friends.  Whenever he was in town, and not on tours, that’s where you’d find him every evening – with a few friends, sitting on the grass, talking, laughing and giving gyaan.

Read: The Four Phases of Ashish Nehra’s 18-Year Career

Nehra’s retirement brings about a certain amount of nostalgia for my generation of cricket lovers. Along with Harbhajan Singh and Yuvraj, Nehra was the last man standing from the 2000 generation; of the hand-picked, red-hot golden boys of Sourav Ganguly.

Ganguly would always describe them as the players with 'a big heart, and the ability to perform when it mattered’. The three, with Zaheer Khan, Virender Sehwag and for a while, Mohammed Kaif, were the propellers of  Indian cricket after 2000, or as one could call it, the post match-fixing era.

With the guidance of their seniors like Tendulkar, Kumble, Dravid and Laxman, this group of cricketers restored the faith of fans that was lying in tatters at the turn of the century. Together, they scripted one of the most memorable decades of Indian cricket. They won at home, but more importantly, became a force while playing abroad.

Nehra played under the captaincy of Mohammad Azharuddin, when Atal Behari Vajpayee was the Prime Minister of India. And Nehra is still here when Virat Kohli has played 200 One-Day Internationals for India. Doesn’t it sound like a giant Redwood tree of Indian cricket?
Indian cricketer Ashish Nehra (3rd from L, facing the camera) celebrates with teammates after taking the wicket of England’s Alec Stewart (2nd R) during a group A match of the 2003 World Cup.
Indian cricketer Ashish Nehra (3rd from L, facing the camera) celebrates with teammates after taking the wicket of England’s Alec Stewart (2nd R) during a group A match of the 2003 World Cup.
(Photo: Reuters)

Who can forget the 2003 World Cup in South Africa where the three musketeers – Nehra, Srinath and Zaheer – ripped apart every team that came their way before that dreadful final.

One of the most amazing displays of fast bowling was seen at the World Cup in India’s match against England. Not many people know, but before that game, it wasn’t confirmed whether Nehra would be playing in the ODI, or even continue in the tournament.

His ankle was in a terrible shape, and people around the dressing room could hear his screams every time the Indian physio Andrew Leipus tapped his ankle to help him get ready for the match.

Nehra went through that pain, and ended up being one of the most significant assets for India in that tournament. The pacer was also there when India won the 2011 World Cup at Wankhede, with his hand strapped in a white bandage.

There’s no doubt that Nehra was fragile, but he was also a survivor. His body went through a lot, well precisely 12 major surgeries on various parts of the body. But he didn’t allow any operation, any pain to make him quit. The last 19 years of his life have been a constant cycle of playing-injury-surgery-recovery-rehab-strengthening-training-playing again. But not for a one single moment did he allow any of it to crumble his resolve. Anyone else in his place would have given up.

India’s physiotherapist Andrew Leipus helps Ashish Nehra to work out during a practice session in Cape Town, March 6, 2003. 
India’s physiotherapist Andrew Leipus helps Ashish Nehra to work out during a practice session in Cape Town, March 6, 2003. 
(Photo: Reuters)

Every injury and every set back made him stronger and more aware of his body. He mastered the art of preserving his body, and is now a walking encyclopedia of injury prevention for fast bowlers.

With regards to Nehra, two jokes in the dressing room are ubiquitous.

  • He can sit in a cold freezer without any issues, because he’s spent loads of time icing his badly bruised body.
  • He knows more about a cricketers’ body than a good physio or doctor would know.

Over the last few years, there have been jokes on Nehra and he’s been trolled on social media. Thankfully, he isn't there and hardly bothers about it. But not many people have seen him training. Not many people have mentioned that despite going through so many fatal injuries, Nehra has never returned to the team showing some descent in his speed.

When he was fit, he was there. Right on the money. That’s why the moment Nehra announced his availability, selectors were keen to see him, and captains were willing to have him on their team sheet.

He was probably the smartest bowler with the white ball. He could swing the new ball and play all kinds of tricks with the old one. When it comes to fast bowling, Nehra is a fountain of knowledge. That’s why when he isn’t  bowling; he would be at mid-on, guiding the youngsters. Ask Bhuvneshwar Kumar or Jasprit Bumrah, and they would tell you what it means to them to have Nehra on their side.

Ashish Nehra is always seen guiding the younger bowlers when he’s on the field. Seen here, Nehra and Jasprit Bumrah during a T20 against England in Jan 2017. 
Ashish Nehra is always seen guiding the younger bowlers when he’s on the field. Seen here, Nehra and Jasprit Bumrah during a T20 against England in Jan 2017. 
(Photo: Reuters)

And by the way, if there’s a situation where the bowling community of India files a case against the privileged class of Indian cricket – the batsmen – Nehra has to be the lawyer for the bowlers.

He can win the case as he knows every single incident, every moment where batters weren’t up to the mark, and how Indian media and everyone has been biased towards batters. No wonder bowlers call themselves the labour class.

Now since Nehra has announced his retirement, BCCI shouldn’t waste a minute to take his services in any form or capacity. He is too useful a resource to let go. And a valuable suggestion for the people looking for a fresh voice with sound insightful perspective on cricket, Nehra is your expert; catch him now.

The outside world can have their opinion about Nehra. Anyone who knows him would vouch for his commitment, dedication and never-say-die attitude. He has the respect of his peers, and that’s what matters.

So farewell Nehra ji, and hope to see you on the other side of retirement, hopefully at Siri Fort, while you talk about your favourite topic: How bowlers are always treated poorly by the media.

(Nishant Arora is an award-winning cricket journalist, and most recently, the media manager of the Indian Cricket Team. He also co-authored the best-selling book on Yuvraj Singh’s battle with cancer.)

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