There is nothing romantic about Ashish Nehra’s bowling. Not anymore.
He does not have the guile of Ravichandran Ashwin. He does not have the vicious toe-breaking Lasith Malinga yorkers. His deliveries do not swing as much as they used to.
In the 2003 world cup game, when he rattled the English batting line-up by taking six wickets for a measly 23 runs, the world sat and took notice.
And then he was gone. Poof! Just like that.
Never mind the fact that he was not in the 2007 world cup squad.
He returned to the team in the 2011 squad though, and in a crucial semifinal against Pakistan, gave away only 33 runs in his quota of 10 overs. Again, never mind the fact that he was not in the team in the finals. Nehra has been in and out of teams.
He has been into Chennai Super Kings, Mumbai Indians, Delhi Daredevils, and Pune Warriors. He has been selected. He has been dropped. Over and over again. And yet, here he is, 17 years after making his debut, leading a pace attack that includes two youngsters who are roughly as old as his career.
This new Nehra is not flamboyant. He does not celebrate by spreading his hands like a gliding eagle. He does not abuse players who drop catches when he bowls.
He is calm. He is calculative and confident. He reads the batsman’s mind and is sure before pitching it short. He tricks the batsman into believing it’s a slower one.
It is difficult to score off him now. But he does not announce that. He did not protest when they dropped him, even though he was the second-highest wicket-taker in 2009.
If you look at Ashish Nehra and do not know him as a cricketer, you would pass him off for another hard-working father who just wants to earn a living for his children and be not disturbed.
Someone who just goes about his business in a routine manner, and yet knows how crucial he is to the system. Someone who owns a ruddy old rustic car and keeps the window rolled down because the air conditioning in the vehicle does not work.
But there is almost something magical about this player, about Nehra 2.0. Four years in the wilderness, and he did not give up. He chipped away slowly at those wooden blocks in his way.
He sawed his way through the iron bars he placed in front of him. He came back in the squad in 2015 and was ready to aim for the twenty-twenty world cup berth. Nehra was already 35 then.
That is the age most batsmen hang their boots, say bye-bye to the game and hold the commentator’s mic in their hands. But not Nehra, not this time.
This new Nehra is an invisible spearhead, one that you do not see and feel until it is very late. Perhaps he learned a lesson or two, from the way his dear friend Virender Sehwag’s career ended. Yet he is not back for vengeance.
He is not back in the team for a photo finish. Nehra is back to do the only thing he knows, bowl quick and get wickets.
India is likely to win this T-20 world cup. They may. The domestic team is always a hot favorite. They may not. Other teams have been playing very good cricket as well.
There will surely be many more of those penultimate Jasprit Bumrah overs, where he will bowl six yorkers and make life difficult for batsmen.
There will surely be a few Hardik Pandya overs where young players will keep their cool and stick to the team plan. But once Nehra retires, there will not be another experienced campaigner who has found his way after being kept out without any reason.
Nehra will continue to be that street-lamp in your street, you only miss when it’s off. That will be the memory of Ashish Nehra.