Ashish Nehra occupies a fascinating space in modern Indian cricket. Often dissed and mocked by the casual watcher, he has been the cricketer’s cricketer. Or to be more precise, a captain’s favourite. He is a bowler who is respected by his peers and appreciated the most by his captains.
The IPL teams that Nehra has played for tells a story of a man respected by his erstwhile teammates. All his former mates, usually his captains either in India or in Ranji team, were the ones who convinced their respective franchises to take him. In 2008, he played for Sachin Tendulkar’s Mumbai Indians; in 2009, he played for Virender Sehwag’s Delhi Daredevils; in 2011, he was picked up by Sourav Ganguly’s Pune Warriors; in 2013, he returned to Delhi before he was bought by MS Dhoni’s Chennai Super Kings in 2014.
It’s easy to see why he has been picked for the T20 series in Australia, keeping in mind the T20 World Cup. It’s a short-term pick and a good one at that. Even now, after a slew of young bowlers have represented India and impressed in the 2015 World Cup, Nehra remains one of India’s best bowlers under pressure and a bowler with an admirable cricketing intelligence. Even during his final international years in one-day cricket, he was MS Dhoni’s go-to bowler under pressure. He had his share of injuries, he had lost some pace, but it was him that Dhoni would throw the ball to during Powerplays. Of course, he wasn’t always successful, but he was the best bet.
There is nothing that stands out in his bowling. Television producers don’t go with extreme close-up on slower ones. There are no fancy back-of-hand variations like James Faulkner or even drastic reduction in pace like Dwayne Bravo and he just slows them up just a bit — around 10 kmph — but it does the job. He is at home in going round the stumps, and hits a length more often than not. He is also one of the better exponents of bouncers.
Long arms hung limply, he trudges here and there on field with a vacant expression on his face. The run-up too isn’t attractive, another facet that fits with the overall unappealing (to the casual watcher) package as a bowler. The feet spray here and there, the arms jerk as he runs and he then gets into a side-on position, splaying his feet far and wide. It’s what’s cooking in his head, and the self-confidence to execute his skills that makes this canny old customer’s selection an unsurprising choice.