The veteran left-arm seamer marked his run-up to bowl the last six deliveries of his international career, by design facing the Ashish Nehra End named after him. The chants inside the Feroz Shah Kotla stadium were deafening as the 38-year-old bid goodbye to the game he served for close to 19 years. Almost overpowering the floodlights a thousand phones flashed. It seemed as if a swarm of fireflies had covered the seats.
The cricketing equation, by Nehra’s own admission at the post-match presser, was well over by over no 16. After bowling two overs inside the powerplay with the new ball, Nehra bowled one in the middle overs and was then informed by Kohli that he will be bowling the last of the match. “Nehra, Nehra” chants kept getting louder as he approached the popping crease for the first of his legal deliveries in the over.
About 20 years ago, at the very stadium, facing the same end, Nehra commenced his First-Class career when he turned out for Ajay Sharma-led Delhi in a domestic match against Haryana. On Wednesday, in front of a capacity crowd which was on their feet, the lanky seamer fittingly finishing what he started. “It’s not about how you start, but how you finish,” was how he summed it up at the end of day’s play.
In an injury-hit career, Nehra does have some regrets. But his farewell match couldn’t have been one. His family in the stands, former teammates in the commentary box and billions watching at home, Nehra strode into the sunset with ease, bowling that last four overs of his career at a fair clip. Luck certainly wasn’t on his side as a catch went down and Kohli failed to hold on to what could have been a one-handed stunner.
‘I’m not a stats person’
Will he have regrets for returning wicketless? Of course not. For Nehra, the game has always been about making memories and not statistics. For him, the six-wicket haul against England was special, but similar number of wickets against Sri Lanka in the Indian Oil Cup final wasn’t. “For me those six wickets don’t matter. If team doesn’t win, your satisfaction personally might be there, but in the end, it is a team game,” Nehra explained.
If you ask anyone about Nehra the person and player, “team man” will be the response shot back at you. “For me those 15 people inside the team are most important and if they are saying that they want me to play more, that is most important. Rest will have opinions be it the commentators, the media or the people but for me they are the most important,” said Nehra.
— BCCI (@BCCI) 1 November 2017
Well before his final match got underway, there was plenty of speculation. Many felt he didn’t deserve a farewell match while the chairman of selectors didn’t guarantee a spot in the Playing XI for his final match. But Nehra hardly cares. “When I started playing, it wasn’t by speaking to any of the selectors. When I’m retiring, it isn’t by telling them either,” came the crisp reply.
The six deliveries of his final over went in a flash, just like his long career, spanning close to two decades. “Kaise gaye woh 20 saal,” an emotional Nehra said during his last presser in the Indian jersey. In his own words there will be, and were, regrets. No one is completely satisfied, he would say. “Even Tendulkar would have wanted to score 5000 more runs.” Every statement of Nehra would be backed by a candid comparison you would smile at. With his Indian cap resting on the table, Nehra had one of the most entertaining interactions.
‘Kisi ki mehnat kabhi kharab nahi jaati…’
These words made so much sense when the veteran took the final lap of honour at the ground where he started his journey as a cricketer. Towards the home stretch, he was lifted on shoulders of Virat Kohli and Shikar Dhawan, his junior teammates in the Delhi team and the players he saw get better by the day from close quarters.
1 of the nicest guy & honest fast bowler has retired from INTL cricket .A Nehra it was pleasure playing against u #Cheers fella#
— Shoaib Akhtar (@shoaib100mph) 2 November 2017
Well before completing the lap amid chants of “Nehra, Nehra”, and Kohli urging the crowd to make it louder, Nehra reminded everyone of the values he was made of, both as a person and a cricketer. After shaking hands with the opposition captain Kane Williamson, who happens to be his teammate at Sunrisers Hyderabad, Nehra saw a familiar face in former India and Delhi captain Bishan Singh Bedi, seated behind the advertising boards. The seamer rushed, touched his feet and took the stalwart’s blessings. Kohli and Dhawan followed and did the same.
Fitting end to a champion career. Well done Ashish Nehra. Proud servant of Indian Cricket
Running high on emotions, the show came to an end when Nehra crossed his legs and sat on the ground for a quirky picture with his teammates. The social media was flooded with tributes and messages for Nehra Ji. It was Sehwag’s “Old is gold” tweet, which was done every time Nehra took a wicket on his return to India T20 side before World Cup 2016, which would have flashed everywhere. Just like Nehra would have in front of those thousands cameras of the spectators which saw curtains come down on a memorable career.