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That wonderful rhythm?s back

There is nothing menacing about the man. He has an apologetic look about him. He's the type you'll probably not even notice in a crowd, at first glance.

india Updated: Feb 28, 2003 00:54 IST

There is nothing menacing about the man. He has an apologetic look about him. He's the type you'll probably not even notice in a crowd, at first glance. The only thing that makes him stand out, is his height. He is 6' 3'' but walks with an awkward slouch, which makes him appear shorter than he actually is.

Ashish Nehra comes across as a fragile young man, who may break down anytime when trying to bowl fast.

But that merely goes to prove that the old cliché is true. Appearances are deceptive. Hand him a cricket ball and the 23-year-old Delhi boy explodes with fiery energy, like on Wednesday night at Durban. That single spell in which he made the ball swerve and bounce. And pitched it so accurately that the England batsmen found him unplayable. Any team would have on the day. You would have to go back years to find a parallel performance.

People are already talking of Nehra in the same breath as Wasim Akram. Before Wednesday's stunner, this would have seemed blasphemous. But not anymore.

Tell the man that he is being compared to Akram and he gives you an embarrassed smile. Akram is his childhood hero and for him to even think of being spoken of in the same breath, is "unthinkable".

"Let us not talk about all this,'' he says. He has a reputation for being a difficult man. He is not. He is modest. He also brushes aside the allegations of his being lazy and prone to injury, with a shrug. There is no arrogance in the smile when he says, "If people think that way, there's little I can do. I am my own person and that is that."

Ask him about the performance against England and he smiles again.

This time, it's matter of fact.

"There are days when you bowl badly but get wickets and there are days you bowl exceptionally well and don't --- like what happened to Srinath on Wednesday. It was my day. I bowled well, concentrated on line and length, the bowl swung and luck favoured me."

Is it pure luck that transformed him from a promising fast bowler who was disappointing his fans into a genuine fast bowler?

"There's lots of hard work behind all this. Ever since Adrian (trainer le Roux) joined us, everything changed.”

“Earlier, the first thing we would do when we got to a hotel was head for the restaurants. Now the first thing we do is find the gym. He has changed the whole environment and it has helped me immensely."

Did he expect to bowl as fast as he is doing here, especially in Harare, where he even touched 149kmph? "Well, not many people noticed that I was bowling at around 144-145kmph against the West Indies at home.”

“It probably didn't register because they thrashed us in the one-dayers. Bowling fast has a lot to do with hard training and whether everything works well for you on a given day. If that happens, then you strike an excellent rhythm and bowl better than ever."

Is that what is happening at the moment?

Something obviously has

On India's last tour to England, when Nehra suddenly lost his bearings and bowled badly during the Test series, Coach John Wright remarked, "Nehra is a rhythm bowler and once he gets that back, he will bowl well again." So, is he a rhythm bowler?

"Well, yes. Perhaps, I am. As I said, there are days when you can't bowl even two or three overs. Something happens to you, you suddenly get tired, don't bowl well at all. There are days when you can do nothing wrong. Like against England. I was feeling so good, I could have bowled for another 10 overs. You can call this rhythm or anything else,'' he says.

Are he and the team under pressure now that the Pakistan match is around the corner?

That winsome smile reappears.

"I certainly am not. At the same time, I can't speak for the others. As far as I'm aware, it's just another match for us. In fact, the match against England was more important --- so much depended on it."

There is more to Nehra, the man, than his bowling. He thinks.

First Published: Feb 28, 2003 00:54 IST