Ashish Nehra played in Chennai Super Kings’ opening match — on April 18 in UAE — and returned to play his second match over a month later, in CSK’s last league match against RCB in Bangalore. In between, it was understood that the bowler had suffered an injury again, a side strain this time. In fact, one has lost count of the number of times his career has been chequered by injury.
Nehra’s sporadic appearances, much like Halley’s comet, are as intriguing and interesting as the jokes on his bowling action. One of the jokes doing the rounds is that he is the only bowler to reach the popping crease much before the ball.
But Nehra, who is wearing a different shade in IPL this year, cannot be written off. It is difficult to ignore the repertoire at his disposal - the swerve, the reverse, yorkers aimed at the root of the stumps and accuracy are still on display and remind us of his days of glory. Of his 6 dismissals in three matches, Nehra has breached the defence of close pal Sehwag and the explosive RCB duo of Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers. All of them were bowled with phenomenal precision. An impressed CSK coach Stephen Fleming said, “Ashish has done a hell lot of bowling and as he is getting fit, he is tapping in to his vast experience.”
It may sound simple but more than the skill, Nehra is fighting a battle on two fronts this year: with his mouth and body. Known to be highly opinionated and acerbic to a degree of not caring about the consequences of hard talk, Nehra is consciously keeping his tongue in control this time. He is recovering from a bias that got pasted on him for allegedly orchestrating power centres in the Indian team and demanding a hike in prize money after the Indian team won the 2011 World Cup. None of these talks went well with the top BCCI officials and consequently Nehra was never picked to play for India after the World Cup. Dhoni, who calls Nehra one of the best ODI bowlers, vouched for him but with a condition — he’ll talk less and bowl more. The change in attitude took quite a bit of convincing but once sorted, eventually earned him a place in CSK at the auctions.
On the other hand, his battle with a fragile body — troublesome back, ankle surgery, side strain etc - has made him a fitness maniac.
Temperature-consciousness even while turning the air-conditioner on at home, careful carb and calorie consumption, regular yoga with Manoj Kumar, the yoga instructor at New Delhi’s Siri Fort auditorium, are some of the measures Nehra is taking to avoid injury.
“Yoga keeps all his four muscles activated which helps in bowling. We train four days a week for 90 minutes for each session. He never misses any session. Somehow, he has understood that the solution to all his fitness related issues lie in yoga and he has regained his fitness fully which reflects in his bowling,” said Manoj Kumar, his yoga instructor who was attached with the 2011 World Cup winning team.
Keeping a close company with his one-time teammates - Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh and Ajay Jadeja - has also helped him.
One may over-commit by saying that Nehra is fully fit, for no one knows when and where he will get injured. But what is holding hope is his note to himself: stay fit, talk less and bowl more.