He may have slipped a bit but is still among the best
It was proved once again in Rawalpindi where Ashish Nehra was a doubtful starter until a couple of minutes before the toss, writes Ian Chappell.india Updated: Mar 17, 2004 02:50 IST
Beware the sick sportsman is an adage worth remembering. It was proved once again in Rawalpindi where Ashish Nehra was a doubtful starter until a couple of minutes before the toss.
Despite a sore ankle he came back to bowl a decisive spell when Pakistan seemed set to post a huge total. Nehra first ripped out Inzamam ul-Haq's leg stump and next ball crashed into Moin Khan's pad to claim an lbw verdict. Two deliveries, two experienced and crucial Pakistan batsmen trudging back to the pavilion. It then took a copybook defensive shot from Shoaib Malik to thwart the hat-trick as Nehra delivered a searing yorker.
It was a superb over reminiscent of a rampant Wasim Akram at his peak leaving batsmen flabbergasted at the level of his skill. Nehra doesn't have anywhere near the cricketing skill of the former Pakistan captain but what he lacks in that department he makes up for with courage.
He looked a little tentative early in his fitness test but he persisted and that must have told the Indian selectors he wanted to play. That was good enough to win a place in the side and he repaid that faith in the space of three excellent deliveries to complete an ideal follow up to his last over heroics in the Karachi victory.
Nehra's burst was typical of the new spirit evident in younger players in the Indian side. We've seen some belligerent batting from Virender Sehwag and in the first ODI in Karachi there was the brave catch taken by Mohammad Kaif as he collided with his team-mate Hemang Badani. This spirit combined with the experience and skill of the senior members like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly is helping India to become a formidable opponent.
In Rawalpindi, Tendulkar was inspired by the effort of Nehra who dragged his team back into the game and incredibly he became the first Indian to make an ODI century in Pakistan. Tendulkar appears to have shed the cloak of uncertainty that he wore so often in Australia and the challenge of facing the Rawalpindi express on his home ground saw the little maestro up for the challenge of a big chase.
When Tendulkar smacked a glorious cover drive off Shabbir Ahmed, hitting the ball on the rise it marked the first time he'd played that signature shot since he left for Australia.
Tendulkar may have slipped a little as a player but even having to make concessions for age he is still better than most batsmen. The sick Nehra and the determined Tendulkar made a perfect combination for India as this series continued to provide great cricket for the fans. It is also the engine that is driving India to become a better cricket team - the guts and determination to fight to the very death.