With the Ashish Nehra retirement saga surrounding, and really being the sole focus of the opening game in Delhi, the three-match Twenty20 International series moves to Rajkot with the dethroned New Zealand side having to win to stay in it.
Ashish Nehra played his final international game for India on Wednesday. Though he could not take any wickets against New Zealand in the first T20 International, it was an emotional farewell for him as he played the game at his home ground Feroz Shah Kotla. After the match, Nehra came for the press conference and talked about retirement, friendships, career and more. Excerpts:
On Retirement: I always felt that no bigger thing than to retire at the venue you want to play your last at. It is definitely a lucky moment. I said at the previous press conference too that people may say you can play for six months or 12 months more but I felt it is better to retire when you’re at the top. It will be 19 years since I made my debut and now I’m retiring at the age of 38-39 years. It is emotional that I will be giving up what I’ve been doing for the past 20 years but there is life after this also. Even the people in the current dressing room know that there is life after cricket also.
On last over: It definitely was an emotional moment. Virat Kohli wanted me to bowl the final over after the 15-16th over. As a cricketer, you shouldn’t say this but by then the game was almost over. Of course miracles do happen but today it seemed like it wasn’t going to happen. So I prepared myself to bowl the final over and it was an emotional moment. I remember bowling my first over from that very end in 1997 against Haryana and Ajay Sharma was the captain standing at mid-off. Don’t know where those 20 years went. Sure there will be regrets but I consider myself to be a very lucky guy to have had a long career despite the number of injuries. The numbers might not reflect that with my last Test coming in 2004 when I was 24-25 years old. The team management wanted me to keep playing cricket such as the Champions Trophy six months back but I pulled my hamstring. 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. I’m glad that they value me. Even in Ranchi when they found out I plan to retire, almost 90-95% said they think I can keep playing. They were surprised that I’m retiring even from the IPL. I’m content and a happy guy despite the number of surgeries I went through.
Most memorable moments: Each match is very memorable. Performance wise they are your memories. These could be six wickets against England, final over in Karachi, four-five wickets in Asia Cup and many other final overs. Difficult to narrow it down to one performance, because even if you take three, four, five, six wickets, you might not be content with how you bowled. Or there could be days where you take two wickets and come back happy with how you bowled. I took six wickets against England and we won and then I took six wickets against Sri Lanka in the Indian Oil Cup which we lost. So 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.
Sum up your career? I am a simple guy. I am happy where I am today and I’m not someone who believes in stats too much. When you’re young, you think you’re the King of the Jungle and you’re not wrong. But in the last six-seven years, I can say that whenever I’ve come back to the dressing room, I can say that I gave my best. Still there are regrets, there were injuries and that is true for everyone. Even Sachin Tendulkar would have thought that he could have got another 5000 runs. You are never satisfied in chasing your dreams. But at the same time it is important to be realistic. In 2009, MS Dhoni and Gary Kirsten pushed me to play Test cricket but I maintained that let me play 2011 World Cup and then I will decide. Now I can pass on my experience to new fast bowlers that I kept going despite so many injuries. After 2007-08, I put a lot of effort. I have seen a lot of ups and downs. When you’ve seen a lot of success, you don’t know what failure is. Now I have seen everything and I can help others.
In 2009-10, I was doing whatever best I could. You can see all the stats for that also. I am that sort of a person who doesn’t question the team management for their decision. If they don’t pick me, it is entirely their decision. But at the same time, you keep working and after one, two or three years, if you’re good, your chance will come. And you have to be ready for that. For the past two years, I’ve been working hard, doing well and getting this sort of farewell. This is kind of god gifting me for the hard work. As the Hindi saying goes, Kisi ki mehnat kabhi kharab nahi jaati. Kisi na kisi tareeke se aapko result mil hi jaata hain (Your hard work doesn’t go waste. Through some way, you will get the desired result). The regret will be that I could have delivered for the country in those three or four years. I was playing well and I was delivering for the IPL franchise. In domestic cricket I wasn’t playing many four day games so it was difficult to motivate myself and same for One Day and T20s. But whenever I trained, I did it to play for India. So when the chance came, I took it with both hands.
In 2005 or even in 2009-10 I got a chance. It’s not that I wasn’t playing cricket back then. Unfortunately, we only see what is happening with the Indian national team. Say for example Ishant Sharma is not playing. He is playing every day for Delhi. Here only 15 players will play. This team doesn’t include R Ashwin or Ravindra Jadeja also. In all three formats combined, not more than 20-25 players can be included and many are playing in the Ranji Trophy. I personally feel we are more of a star loving country than a sport loving country. Unfortunate to say that we are not like Australia or South Africa. We are not a sport loving country but a star loving country. I would like to see more crowd for Ranji Trophy games. There is a large audience for County games also. The regret for me personally will be the injuries hampered my career. For me it is basically a case of keep trying to play. If you can’t play Tests, try playing ODIs, if not ODIs then T20s. Just keep trying and you will be rewarded.
Cricket is such a game that keeps evolving every few years. Every team undergoes a transition phase as well. When I started playing, from 2001 till 2007-2008, Australia were the team to beat. I remember the 2003 World Cup, I thought I was bowling well but the likes of Matthew Hayden or Ricky Ponting were always a step ahead of you. The same way, the bowlers would think they’re doing well but the likes of Virat Kohli or Rohit Sharma are step ahead of them. Every team has a transition period. It can be seen with Sri Lanka and West Indies. The Windies are not the same as they were in 1983 till 1985. IPL has a big role to play in this in giving confidence to the youngsters. They are now capable of playing at this level and delivering. Now there is a lot of competition. India A makes a lot of tours and the game keeps evolving. Back then India had a good team too. We were good under Gary Kirsten too.
On Selectors: I didn’t have any discussion with the Chairman of selectors (MSK Prasad). As far as the team management is concerned, I told them of my decision in Ranchi. When I spoke with Virat, he asked if I was sure and suggested I keep playing in the IPL. Luckily this game came to Delhi, I didn’t ask for a farewell game, I didn’t speak to the selectors about it. When I started playing, it wasn’t by speaking to any of the selectors or when I’m retiring, it isn’t by telling them either. When I told the team management that Bhuvneshwar Kumar is ready to play. In the last two years, Jasprit Bumrah and I have been playing in tandem, two spinners and the final seamer in Hardik (Pandya). Bhuvi keeps dropping in and out. But after IPL, I personally felt that this is a way forward. I didn’t find it suitable that I play and Bhuvi sits out. I thought if there is a World Cup in five or six months or I had plans to play for a year or two years, then I’ve earned this spot. If someone has earned this spot, then they can take it. You can see my stats for the past two years and I told Kohli, Shastri that it is not that I don’t want to be included in the playing XI. If the team needs me, I am here. Even in Hyderabad (India vs Australia, 3rd T20), I was going to play had it not rained. It was my own decision and for the betterment of Indian cricket and the team. Even today, people wondered whether ‘Ashish Nehra will play or not?’. If I’ve come here, I’ve come to play. I am not here to roam about.
On his Captains: I am someone who doesn’t like comparisons. I have played under Dada (Sourav Ganguly) and everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses. I have played under MS Dhoni, now under Virat – who has a long way to go. And then I’ve played for some time under Virender Sehwag also who is a very positive person. He knew how to bring out the best out of people. Then Ganguly could motivate the players very well. He could get a lot out of us youngsters – Me, Zaheer Khan, Yuvraj Singh and Harbhajan Singh. Whenever I’m feeling well physically, I will enjoy – whoever the captain.
Future? I am someone who has always and only done cricket throughout his life. I don’t know what will come next. I haven’t sat down and decide what to do next. Maybe it will be coaching or maybe it will be commentary.
Comeback from injury? My attitude was always that you can never say never. Even in 2009-10, I was the top wicket-taker in the world. But after 2011 World Cup, I suffered a finger injury and was out of action. I knew only one thing to wake up in the morning, go train and play. Even in the summer, sometimes there would be only 20 kids and I would bowl single wicket. It was very simple that I enjoyed cricket and I still do. If you give enough time to the game, you will be rewarded. If you keep giving three hours or so to the game or more, you will be rewarded. Maybe I learnt this lesson late but better late than never.
On friendship with Virender Sehwag? I have had a long relationship with Viru. The times of him picking me up on the scooter will not come back. We used to come for trials for U19 or for Ranji Trophy. He used to drive while going and I would sleep and going back the order would be reversed. Now it is difficult to see such a thing with everyone travelling by luxury buses. Be it cricket or life, things change every decade.
Hands on hips and gaze fixed intently at his captain Virat Kohli, who was getting his field placement absolutely spot on, Ashish Nehra waited patiently to start the proceedings in his last international fixture. Behind the sight screen from where he was going to bowl his last four overs in the blue India jersey, stood a white flex board with the words ‘ASHISH NEHRA END’ etched in bold. It was quite a surreal frame, which also summed up the mood.
In his last competitive game at home, Ferozshah Kotla’s quintessential Ambedkar Stadium End was rechristened the Ashish Nehra End. The 38-year-old would thus become the only international bowler to bowl from his own end after James Anderson. It was a fitting tribute by the DDCA to Nehra, acknowledging his 20-year-old career.
Back in 2015, when the Kotla decked up to host the final Test match between India and South Africa, the two stands were renamed ‘Viru 319 End’ and ‘Viru 309 End’ respectively, as a mark to felicitate Virender Sehwag, who had just announced his retirement from international cricket. Sehwag, like Nehra, was another local here and the numbers 319 and 309 were his two highest scores in Test cricket. As of now, there is no plan to rename the Ambedkar Stadium End as Ashish Nehra End. “Nothing has been decided as of now,” was how a DDCA official put it.
“A committee has been set up to look into the matter. A decision will be taken on November 6. Some of the other legends of Delhi cricket too will have their names etched on various stands at the Feroz Shah Kotla. Lets wait and see,” the official added.
Oh dear, DRS!
The last delivery of Trent Boult’s final over was pitched full and wide outsideRohit Sharma’s off-stump. Sensing an opportunity, the opener goes for an almighty heave. However, he misses it and the Kiwis appeal for a caught behind.
Nitin Menon and Shamsuddin, the two umpires out in the middle are not sure whether the ball came off Rohit’s blade or was it a just a bump ball. They get into a huddle and then asks third umpire Anil Chaudhury to take a call on it. However, Chaudhary comes back with, ‘bat hit the ground’ and rules Rohit not out. Not convinced by the third umpire’s decision, the Kiwis decide to go for the DRS. The review shows that Rohit had indeed nicked Boult to wicket-keeper Tom Latham. And much to the embarrassment of Chaudhury, he has to quickly change his decision and rule Rohit out.