In 2011, as India prepared to play the World Cup final, pacer Ashish Nehra was left nursing a finger injury that ruled him out of what could have been the biggest night of his career. Since then, he was ignored from the national side for five years.
On Sunday, as India take on Bangladesh in the final of the Asia Cup, Nehra will finally be back on the big stage playing in his first major final since returning to international cricket.
Nehra’s return to the national side has been one of the most surprising selection decisions in recent times. After spending five years away, Nehra burst onto the scene with his impressive showing while playing for Chennai Super Kings in the Indian Premier League in 2015. Nehra scalped 22 wickets from 16 games to finish fourth highest on the wicket-takers’ list.
It was Nehra’s performance that played a vital role in handing the MS Dhoni-led CSK a place in the final. However, once on the big stage, Nehra could not quite make the ball work as he had through the tournament.
He went wicket-less in the game and conceded 41 runs in the four overs he bowled. The selectors though seemed to have been mightily impressed with his performance and gave him an India call-up. Since his return, Nehra has led the pace attack well. Partnering youngsters Jasprit Bumrah and Hardik Pandya, the 36-year-old has not let India’s bowling look shaky even once in the nine games he has played so far.
Skipper Dhoni has relied on him to lead the bowling. During the Asia Cup, with greenish wickets on offer, Nehra has been outstanding upfront, contributing with vital breakthroughs and restricting the runs to a bare minimum. His understanding of the T20 format has been India’s biggest gain. In short bursts of two overs each, Nehra has found the rhythm that has been bringing him and the team some major returns.
A lot of the same will be expected from him in the final. With the inexperienced Bumrah and Pandya playing their first ever final, the onus will be on the Delhi-based bowler to deliver in the final of a multi-national tournament, a stage he has so far failed to perform on.
Nehra’s last big performance was against England during the 2003 World Cup. At that stage of his career, he had to his credit just a handful of matches under his belt. He had then impressed on the big stage with terrific figures of six for 23. The story of the final went along similar lines; he had then finished wicket-less.
Before that, during the 2002 Champions Trophy final, Nehra had to be replaced ahead of the final after injuring his bowling hand in the previous game.
Ahead of the World T20, which is likely to be the last big stage before he walks into the sunset, Nehra would want to set his track record in the final straight.
Unlike the previous finals he has played in, this time though, he is the man the team has pinned its hopes on to deliver. A greenish wicket is expected once again and Nehra will hope his first final since getting a second wind will be a lot different than all the ones he has played in before.