The clock ticks down to Ashish Nehra bidding adieu to a fruitful, occasionally frustrating, but a career punctuated by some knockout performances when the chips were down. The left-armer, who has played under seven different captains, reserved some of his best performances in the World Cups.
Nehra was a pivotal figure in India reaching the final in 2003 under Sourav Ganguly, truly coming into his own with atleast two match-winning spells. The 38-year-old, despite being erratic in 2011, made his presence felt in the semi-finals against Pakistan at Mohali.
There is a belief that if not for several debilitating injuries – he has undergone 12 surgeries – Nehra would have a longer and a far more milestone-laden career. He has managed to clock up only 163 international matches across formats in nearly two decades.
Here is a look back at some of his best bowling performances:
6/23 against England at Durban
Perhaps no other Indian cricketer worth his salt has had one performance stand over and above the rest of his feats in his career. That was the impact of Nehra’s magnificent night at Durban, probably the watershed moment in galvanising a team low on confidence to on an extraordinary winning run.
Facing severe backlash from irate fans back home after a landslide defeat to Australia in the group stages, India’s performance in this encounter lifted the mood of the camp. Nehra’s nip, variable bounce while operating on a canny line outside the off-stump wreaked havoc in the English middle-order. Chasing 251, England were shot out for just 168. He followed this performance by running through Sri Lanka at Johannesburg.
2/33 vs Pakistan at Mohali
Dismissing two tail-end batsmen may not be a landmark achievement by any means but this was a timely spell when India desperately needed their bowlers to deliver. It was the World Cup semi-final after all, and the hosts were playing Pakistan. One can only imagine the pressure that was riding on MS Dhoni and co.
Through the tournament, every time India batted first, they had managed to register scores in excess of 290. That, though, wasn’t the case at Mohali as they could only manage 260. With Shahid Afridi batting at No 8, the opposition had strength-in-depth and only regular breakthroughs would keep India’s hopes alive in the game. Nehra gave nothing away in his early spell and set the tone for Harbhajan Singh and the rest to apply the brakes in the middle overs.
6/59 vs Sri Lanka at Colombo
Faithfully sticking to his billing of saving his best for the big stage, Nehra scalped six Sri Lankan wickets at Colombo in the Indian Oil Cup final in 2005. Nehra became the first Indian to have two six-wicket hauls to his name in One-day Internationals. At the end of the game, sadly, he also had the dubious distinction of being amongst a select brand of bowlers who ended up on the losing side despite picking up a six-for.
His wickets included captain Marvan Atapattu, Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara and Tillakaratne Dilshan. Nehra’s efforts were trumped by Lankan legends Chaminda Vaas and Muttiah Muralitharan on the night.
3/26 vs England (2004) at Lord’s
The three-match series was dead and buried as the hosts had won the first two games. Around this period, Michael Vaughan’s England were beating anyone in sight and would go on to recapture the Ashes after a gap of 16 years within a year’s time.
A Tendulkar-less India cut a cropper with the bat and folded for just 204. Once again, Nehra made mincemeat of England, quickly removing openers Marcus Trescothick and Vikram Solanki as India landed an early advantage. Irfan Pathan and Harbhajan Singh also chipped in with fine spells of their own as the visitors edged England out by 23 runs.
3/28 vs England (T20I) at Nagpur
How can one talk about Nehra’s fine spells without mentioning what he could do even in his late thirties. Same opponents but here, he was up against men nearly half his age. Yet again, India were left to defend a moderate score, having just managed 144 after being put in to put.
Nehra removed dangerous openers Sam Billings and Jason Roy during the first powerplay – another instance of him spearheading his team’s cause by putting the opposition on the backfoot straight away. However, England recovered with Joe Root and the hard-hitting Ben Stokes finding the gaps at will.
Just when it looked like the result was a foregone conclusion, Nehra’s tenacity and nous sparked off another turnaround late in the game as he trapped Stokes leg-before. Jasprit Bumrah extraordinary death-over display helped India steal a six-run win from the jaws of defeat.
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