Much before Virat Kohli began his final flourish in the 18th over against Australia on Sunday, there was a crucial moment in the game. With the Aussies 53 for no loss after four overs, India were off to the kind of start they had dreaded in the do-or die battle in Mohali. Usman Khawaja was in murderous mood, and with the run-rate at 13 plus, some had started predicting a target of 200 plus.
At that point, captain MS Dhoni sought senior bowler Ashish Nehra’s counsel. A long discussion ensued, with Virat Kohli also joining in. Nehra later revealed that he was convincing his skipper that they had to attack and go for the wicket inside the powerplay overs (first six). The captain was convinced and Khawaja was done in by Nehra with the perfect length ball which invited him to drive but was a shade away and induced the edge. It was brilliant to see the bowling comeback with the veteran bowler proving the most effective, and with an economy rate of five, conceding just 20 runs in four overs.
Of the three players past 30 --- Yuvraj Singh and Harbhajan Singh are the others --- called up by the selectors, Nehra has made the biggest impact. His skill has been impressive and his influence can be seen as the senior member of the bowling group, devising strategies and guiding the young bowlers.
Before delivering under pressure against Australia, he had done a fine job against New Zealand, Bangladesh and Pakistan, keeping things tight and providing breakthroughs at crucial junctures.
Dhoni has shown great confidence in the 36-year-old left-arm pacer’s judgement, and it is no coincidence his captaincy is looking brilliant. It has been part of Dhoni’s captaincy style from the beginning. He was known to depend on his senior bowlers for suggestions. In his first assignment, at the 2007 World T20, Harbhajan Singh was a close aide in forming strategies. Then Dhoni depended on Zaheer Khan. Once the two lost their places in the team, it reflected in the success rate under Dhoni’s captaincy. Bringing Nehra on board for this big ticket event is just the tonic India needed.
Dhoni’s confidence in Nehra stems from their Chennai Super Kings days. The Delhi pacer was always respected for his ability to read the game. Only an injury-prone body prevented him from turning into a great.
Most of all, he is a big stage player. He was outstanding at the 2003 World Cup, and was the hero of the semifinal win over Pakistan in the 2011 World Cup. And he is back for one last tango.
The Gayle challenge
Next up is West Indies, where Nehra will be up against Chris Gayle. R Ashwin and Nehra will be Dhoni’s main weapons. Not only is Nehra on top of his game but Gayle’s record against left-arm pacers is not great – how Zaheer Khan loved bowling to him!
“Nehra has brought all his experience into play in this tournament. The key is to do your basics well and that is where Nehra has been brilliant. He has hit the right lengths and towards the end he has been effective with his yorkers outside off-stump. I am sure he is giving a lot of confidence to the youngsters when they are bowling. He has done a very good job,” said former India pacer and bowling coach Venkatesh Prasad.