Make no mistake. It doesn’t matter whether our careers ensure that we’re stay-at-home types, desk-bound types, constantly-travelling types or always-on-our-feet types. All of us need to be fit and in good health most of the time, if we want to do well at work and in life.But for a professional athlete, such as cricketer Ashish Nehra, whose career depends almost solely on his body, constant injuries can be a nightmare.
Nehra’s career has been plagued with successive back and ankle injuries. Some were so serious that he had to drop out of the Indian team for nearly two years (2005-2007). However, he made an impressive comeback in 2008 when he joined the Mumbai Indians team in the Indian Premier League (IPL) and was made the Man of the Match for his performance against the Rajasthan Royals.
“Cricket in our country has been given such a stature that if you perform well, you are on top, but if you are out of the game, it doesn’t take long for people and the media to write you off,” says Nehra as he relaxes at his home in Uday Park, Delhi. “Considering that so many young people are waiting to get into the national team, two years is a very long time for anyone to be out of national cricket. Fortunately, I have learnt to take my injuries in my stride rather than see them as roadblocks in my career.”
Nehra began his career playing for his hometown Delhi in 1997/98. He made his Test debut against Sri Lanka in 1999 and his ODI debut in 2001 against Zimbabwe. Since he was fairly successful in his respective debuts, Nehra joined the Indian team during the 2003 World Cup in South Africa. It was during this World Cup that he made his career-best ODI figures of six for 23 against England.
Though he’s philosophical now about the injuries that continue to bother him (back on the national team since 2009 and playing in the 2011 World Cup, he was unable to participate in the historic final when India won the cup because of a fractured finger), Nehra was rather less cheerful when he had to drop out of national cricket in 2005 because of a bad ankle.
“Those were bad years,” he says. “I had suffered an ankle impingement and my doctor said I needed surgery. I didn’t want surgery, but there wasn’t much choice. And after it was done, I learned that rehabilitation would take six or seven months. That was the most difficult part,” says Nehra.
On crutches for six weeks after the surgery, Nehra had a lot of physiotherapy to go through.
“I was basically required to do a lot of ankle exercises which I did regularly in the gym as well as at home,” he says. “I wanted to get back in shape as soon as possible. I was in Australia for six weeks and also in Germany, meeting and consulting specialised doctors for my back as well as my ankle injuries.”
Though he was physically in poor shape, mentally and emotionally, he tried to stay optimistic.
“Injuries are an integral part of a sportsperson’s profession so we must have a very positive outlook towards life,” Nehra explains. “Also it’s not just your attitude that matters. Your willpower also plays an important role in keeping you fit and fine. I was never depressed during this period, though I admit I did feel low at times.”
It helped him to know that his injuries were not life-threatening, and Nehra also credits his family and friends for keeping him cheerful through this period in his life. “Those two years made me realise who were my true friends and who supported me,” says Nehra. “Zaheer Khan and Virender Sehwag were always there to encourage me and help me out.”
Nehra’s wife Rushma was then his girlfriend and though they had a long distance relationship – she’s originally from London – her support also helped Nehra get through that phase in his career. “I’ve known her since 2001 though we only got married in 2009,” says Nehra. “During that bad phase, Rushma made sure to have long chats with me and keep me in a positive state of mind. She’s been a great support.”
But support isn’t enough if there’s little or nothing to support you in the first place. Nehra was fit before his injury and that was a huge help. Because as anyone knows, while good luck always boosts a career, hard work is essential and Nehra is a big believer in that philosophy.
Still, he’s unable to give luck less than its due. “Cricket is a challenging game where luck also matters,” he says. “That’s why I consider myself quite lucky that even after a gap of two years, I was able to come back with a great game and surprise everyone who had written me off.”
So has he any fitness secrets that help him stay in shape? “Fortunately for a fast bowler, I have a very lean body structure and have never had any weight issues,” says Nehra who enjoys watching and playing most sports, especially soccer. “But at the same time, I firmly believe in giving at least two to four hours to my body to keep it in good shape. My workout is a mix of gymming (at least five or six times a week), swimming (two or three times a week) and yoga. I am also fond of running and try and
run before practice sessions or when I’m unable to go to the gym for some reason. I believe in being active both mentally and physically. If my body is in good shape, my mind will be fit too.”
Nehra starts his day with a cup of tea, after an early morning shower.
Breakfast usually consists of fruit (such as papaya), carrot and beetroot juice and muesli with milk.
Lunch at home is vegetarian. It’s a regular meal of dal, subzi, roti and rice.
Nehra enjoys chicken dishes and Chinese and Thai cuisine when he goes out.
Next week: Singer Raageshwari who patiently worked through facial paralysis
From HT Brunch, February 26
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