Ashish Nehra, who called time on his career with India’s first Twenty20 International against New Zealand on Wednesday (November 1), said that the decision was taken of his own volition and he hadn’t consulted MSK Prasad, the chairman of selectors, or received any message from him that the selectors were looking beyond the veteran 38-year-old bowler.
There had been reports that Nehra’s retirement was prompted by Prasad telling him the selectors would not consider him for matches after the New Zealand series, but the senior pacer said he hadn’t even had a talk with any selector, emphasising that he didn’t need their permission to walk away.
“I have heard this but I don’t know about this,” said Nehra after India’s 53-run win at his Feroz Shah Kotla home ground in Delhi. “I haven’t had any talks with the chairman of selectors on this. As far as the team management is concerned, I have already spoken about Virat’s (Kohli) reaction when I first spoke to him in Ranchi. His first reaction was, ‘Are you sure? You can still play IPL. You can play as a coach-cum-player.’ And I told him no, I will retire completely.
“Luckily this game came to Delhi. I never asked for a farewell or anything. Like I’ve repeated, maybe this is God’s way of giving me this result for the work I’ve put in for the last eight to ten years. I hope Virat and Ravi Shastri are the team management! Because I spoke to them. Other than that, I haven’t spoken to any selectors. If he (MSK Prasad) has said this, then you should surely ask him. When I started playing cricket, I didn’t ask any selector and start playing. So when I’m leaving too, I’m not asking anyone and leaving.”
Nehra said that his decision was prompted by Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s development, and acknowledged that once he was in the squad for the Delhi T20I, it was a given that he would be in the playing XI.
“I just told the captain that I think Bhuvneshwar Kumar is ready and is playing well now. You would have seen for the past two years, Bumrah and I are playing as the two fast bowlers. Then we have two spinners and Hardik (Pandya) is the third fast bowler,” explained Nehra. “And Bhuvi was up and down, but this year after the IPL, I personally felt that this is the way forward. I will not like it as a bowler that I play and Bhuvi sits out.
“If there was a World Cup in the next few months, or my plan was to play for one or two more years, then I have earned this spot. If someone is doing better than me, then he can have it. It’s not like anyone was doing me a favour (by picking me). You can check my record of the last two years, for those who are fond of stats. But, I told this to Virat and Ravi Shastri in spite of doing well. In the last game (versus Australia) it rained in Hyderabad, but I was playing. So it was my own decision, and it was for the betterment of Indian cricket and the team. Today also people were wondering ‘Will Ashish Nehra play or not’. But if I’m coming here, then I was going to play isn’t it? I hadn’t come here for sight-seeing!”
Leaving political correctness firmly at the door, Nehra said that Kohli had told him during the match that he would be bowling the last over, and that the match was headed only one way after 15 overs, when New Zealand had sunk to 95 for 6, in pursuit of India’s 202 for 3.
“It was emotional definitely. And Virat wanted me to bowl the last over even before that, you know after the 15th or 16th over. As a cricketer you shouldn’t say that, but after 15-16 overs the game was almost over,” smiled Nehra. “So I was preparing myself for the last over, and it was very emotional. I still remember in 1997 when I bowled my first over. It was from that end only against Haryana, and Ajay Sharma was the captain and he was standing at mid-off. Those 20 years I don’t know where they have gone. There will be regrets, but I see myself as a very lucky guy that after 18-19 years as an international career I’m still retiring here, in spite of so many injuries. Maybe the stats don’t show it, like I played my last Test in 2004 when I was 24-25, but the good thing with me was that the team management always wanted me to play Test cricket, and then one-day cricket. Even till six months back they were asking me to play Champions Trophy, but I pulled my hammy.
“For me, those 15 people inside are the most important. As long as they are saying you can play more, they want me in the team, that’s what’s important for me. When they came to know in Ranchi about my plan, that I’m going to retire, almost 90-95% of the people – there were one or two new ones – said, ‘You can easily play.’ They were really surprised that I’m retiring even from IPL. Because I’m that sort of person that it’s difficult for me to wake up in the morning and train just for IPL.”
In spite of a career that ended with only 17 Tests when promising more at the start, Nehra said he was leaving without any regrets. The last Test match he played was in 2004, and though he had been part of squads after that and was even asked by the captain-coach combo of MS Dhoni and Gary Kirsten in 2009-10 to play Test cricket, his injury-ravaged body never allowed him to play long-format cricket too much, either for India or Delhi.
“It’s not like I didn’t get a chance. I was in the squad in 2005 and again in 2009-10 the captain and coach asked me to play. But I keep repeating this to people that unfortunately we see only the cricket played for India,” said Nehra. “You can’t look at Ishant Sharma and say you aren’t playing anymore. He’s playing every day for Delhi. At any given time only 15 can be part of the Indian team. This team (T20I) doesn’t have R Ashwin or Ravindra Jadeja. Take Tests, ODIs and T20s together, and still it won’t be more than 20-25 players. But so many people play in the Ranji Trophy. I personally feel that in India, more than (loving) the sport, we are a star-loving country. It’s unfortunate that I’m saying this but we are not like Australia or South Africa. They are sport-loving countries.
“I would like to see when there’s a Ranji Trophy game going on – I’m not saying it should be a packed stadium like this, that doesn’t happen in Test matches also – but at least some crowd should be there. As far as my Test career is concerned, the coach and captain kept asking me. There will be regrets that because of my injuries I couldn’t play back then, or I couldn’t take a decision whether I can play or not. But it’s how you look at things. I have always believed that do your best at whatever you can do. If you can’t play Tests, your body can’t take it, then try to play one-day cricket. If you can’t do that, then play T20s.”
Nehra also reiterated that he was not someone overtly focussed on stats, or into comparisons, batting away questions weighing the current Indian team against the many he had been part of.
“One day I was watching a game India was playing in Kolkata and they were showing the highest averages ever for a minimum of 1,000 runs or something,” elaborated Nehra. “In the top ten there was no Tendulkar, no Lara, no Ponting, no Kallis. I’m not ready to accept that they were not that great.
“If you play the next 25 ODIs with the red SG ball, it’s not that Virat Kohli or Rohit Sharma or MS Dhoni won’t score runs. They all will, but it won’t be 350. It will be 260 to 280. Cricket is a game of conditions. Every era has its great players. When I started, from 2001 to about 2007-08, Australia were very difficult to beat. I still remember the 2003 World Cup, I was feeling as a bowler that I am bowling well but Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden and Ricky Ponting always seemed a step ahead. Like for the past two-three years, bowlers might feel they are doing well but Virat is a step ahead of them, Rohit is a step ahead of them.”