And so, Ashish Nehra has ridden away into the sunset, in a blaze of glory and celebration. A career that ought to have been a lot more productive were it not for a protesting body ended with a fairytale finish – an Indian victory in a Twenty20 International that will be remembered largely for the emotional send-off with Virat Kohli, the undisputed boss of Indian cricket as batsman and captain, in the forefront.
Some 20 years after he sent down his first delivery in senior representative cricket at the same venue, Nehra signed off at his beloved Feroz Shah Kotla with a fast full toss that breezed past Ish Sodhi’s bat. A wicket off his final ball in the sport would have been the perfect ending, but in the end, that was all but immaterial. The Kotla rose as one to acknowledge the contributions of one of its favourite sons. Seldom during his long, injury-ridden career has Nehra been as eulogised and cherished as he was on his last day as a competitive cricketer, but then again, such is the power of sentiment.
While November 1, 2017 was an opportunity taken – an opportunity to acknowledge Ashish Nehra – it was also an opportunity lost. To remember a gentleman who also gave plenty to cricket, whose life was shaped and determined and ruled by cricket both during his playing days and in his retirement. Two days prior to that Kotla T20I, Dr MV Sridhar passed away. Sridhar played nearly a hundred first-class matches, captained Hyderabad with distinction, holds the record for the third highest score in Indian first-class history, had been the secretary of the Hyderabad Cricket Association and, until a month before his demise, also served as General Manager (Cricket Operations) of the Board of Control for Cricket in India.
Surely, he deserved a farewell? A public acknowledgement of what he had done for Indian cricket? A black armband on the sleeve of each member of the Indian squad, at the very least?
Black armbands are a token of appreciation and thanksgiving, of remembrance and mourning. They are a symbolic representation, as much as anything else. There is, evidently, a protocol for the sporting of these little strips that carry deep and immense meaning and value. But I am sure no one would have begrudged the Indian team sporting black armbands as a mark of respect for Sridhar’s departed soul, much like they had all done during a One-Day International against England when Mark Mascarenhas, the sports promoter and then Sachin Tendulkar’s agent, passed into history in January 2002.
Perhaps Ravi Shastri, the current coach who was a great pal of Mascarenhas, could have taken the lead. Maybe Kohli could have, seeing as Sridhar joined his squad in the Caribbean this June as interim team director/coach in the immediacy of Anil Kumble’s resignation as the head coach. But also, if it was not within the ambit of the team management, then Rahul Johri, the BCCI CEO, could have triggered the initiative. Or the Vinod Rai-led Committee of Administrators of two, whose sphere of activity has gradually snowballed well beyond their brief when they first came into existence. Sad.
But back to Nehra. At the end of the day, after having sent down the last over of the game that India won by a country mile, after a lap around the ground in appreciation of the fans’ unorchestrated show of love and warmth, after being hoisted on their shoulders by Delhi buddies Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan, after sweetly touching the feet of Bishan Bedi in an endearing display of respect and reverence, the 38-year-old shared his life story with the media. There was the typical dry Nehra wit, a few not-irreverent quips and retorts, but the talking point was his takedown of MSK Prasad, the chairman of selectors who, less than 10 days back, had shed light on communication between the selection panel, the team management and the player himself with regard to his international future.
“There are lot of apprehensions going on about Ashish Nehra, I will make it very clear and candid, you all know that communication has been our strong point, we have clearly communicated to the player, that is Ashish Nehra and the team management, that we are only looking at him till the New Zealand series,” Prasad had insisted after the India team for the New Zealand T20Is and the first two Sri Lanka Tests had been named in Mumbai on October 23. “We are happy that the player also took it in the right spirit that the new generation is coming up and instead of waiting till the end of New Zealand series, he felt that Delhi game itself he will quit so that the others can (get a chance).”
Prasad has gone to great lengths during his tenure to explain that the selection panel comprising himself, Devang Gandhi and Sarandeep Singh is the one calling the shots, and that the team management only holds an advisory role. There is no reason not to take the former India stumper’s claims at face value, but clearly, in this instance, his public proclamations are at variance with the views of Nehra, who insisted that the decision to bow out on November 1 was his, and his alone.
“I have heard this but I don’t know about this,” was how Nehra put it at his final press do as an India player. “I haven’t had any talks with the chairman of selectors on this. 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.”
Clearly, something is amiss here – the chairman says the selectors spoke to the veteran paceman who has publicly debunked that claim. In an era where there is a great accent on the need for communication without commensurate actions, this development doesn’t augur well. It might not appear a massive issue, but a senior player is in some ways questioning the integrity of the selection panel chairman. The BCCI must facilitate the outing of the truth, largely because the sanctity of the chairman’s position must be maintained. The stirring run of results has helped paper over whatever cracks there might be, but shouldn’t the selectors/team management/players all be speaking in the same voice?
Speaking of, the Shastri voice hasn’t been heard in a long time. The last time the Indian head coach addressed the media was on August 1, two days before the start of India’s second Test in Sri Lanka, a somewhat fractious and edgy interaction. Since then, the team has played one additional Test match, 13 ODIs and four T20Is; the former commentator has spoken a couple of times to the host broadcaster, but unlike when he was the team director, has now steered clear of press conferences. Perhaps, the cares and responsibilities of the coach haven’t left him with the time or the desire anymore.