Ashish Nehra during his Test debut in 1999 (Image courtesy: AFP)
Ashish Nehra during his Test debut in 1999 (Image courtesy: AFP)

February 1999. The Asian Test Championship had got off to a controversial start. Pakistan marched to victory against India at Eden Gardens amidst empty stands. For the the first four days, a capacity crowd had greeted the teams but Sachin Tendulkar’s controversial run out irked the Kolkata crowd. ALSO READ: 6 Ashish Nehra quotes that prove he is the ‘cool dude’ of Indian team

Colombo was the venue for the second Test. The side had a 20-year-old debutant from Delhi by the name Ashish Nehra. Nearly two decades later, our popular Nehra-ji decided to call it quits from the game, but here is his first skipper, Mohammad Azharuddin, recalling the selection meeting that paved the path for the lanky bowler to the Indian team.

“When I took his name in the selection committee meeting, many people were surprised that I knew him. He was a budding cricketer and I thought he had the right attitude and deserved a chance. He bowled reasonably well in that Test. He was raw and got a wicket (that of Marvan Atapattu) as well.

“I feel he really did well. You don’t like people to retire but that’s reality. He probably didn’t want his body to take more beating,” Azhar told Sportsstar.

Nehra picked only one wicket in the Test and made a return to the side two years later in shorter format. India got 5 points from the Test and Sri Lanka 4, but still failed to qualify for the final.

Azhar revealed that he knew Nehra’s end as a cricketer was near. The bowler had recently told his former captain about the same.

“I knew about his retirement because I met him a few days back, before he joined the team for the ongoing series. He told me he was going to retire. I think he has taken a good decision. The way he played with so many injuries is remarkable. He is an outstanding bowler,” Azhar added.

Restricted to limited-overs

While Nehra first came to the fore in Tests, it was under Sourav Ganguly’s leadership that he flourished as an ODI bowler. He singlehandedly bowled India to a victory against England at Durban in a 2003 World Cup Group Match. However, injuries curtailed his fortunes in the longer format.

Azhar laments the fact that Nehra could just play 17 Tests in an 18-and-half year international career.

“As a bowler, I feel he was restricted to ODI cricket. He had the ability to play more Tests for his natural strengths — in-swing, out-swing and then, he also developed pace. Unfortunately, he lost out on injuries. He underwent some 10 to 12 operations,” Azharuddin laments.

Mentor

Nehra has been a mentor for many bowlers over the years. In a recent interview with CricketCountry, Delhi seamer Subodh Bhati admitted he grew up wanting to be the next Nehra and his Delhi senior has been a great mentor to him.

Even the current crop of Indian pacers look up to Nehra’s advice. Azhar feels Nehra should keep imparting knowledge to the budding cricketers.

“With his capabilities and whatever he has learned in his career, he can impart the knowledge to young fast bowlers. When you talk to him, you don’t feel like you are talking to Ashish Nehra. At the end of the day, you are known for your cricket but at the same time, you must also remember a person who has been this humble throughout his career. He has been nice to everyone,” Azharuddin added.

Nehra will play his last match at Feroz Shah Kotla in Delhi against New Zealand and end his international career with 164 internationals (17 Tests, 120 ODIs and 26 T20Is).

Brief scores (from Nehra’s debut match)

India 518 for 7 dec. (Sadagoppan Ramesh 143, Rahul Dravid 107, Sachin Tendulkar 53, Mohammad Azharuddin 87, Sourav Ganguly 56) & 306 for 5 (Sourav Ganguly 78, Sachin Tendulkar 124*) drew with Sri Lanka 485 all out (Mahela Jayawardene 242, Arjuna Ranatunga 66; Anil Kumble 4 for 134, Harbhajan Singh 3 for 127; Ashish Nehra 1 for 94)

India: 5, Sri Lanka: 4