Ashish Nehra: Bracing for an imminent recall
Ashish who? was the overwhelming refrain when a gawky 19-year-old left arm quick was plucked from obscurity into the Indian team against Sri Lanka at Colombo two years ago. One Test later he was lost in the murky depths of domestic cricket, just another selectoral quirk, we all thought. Until the 2000-01 season, that is.
Ashish Nehra is hurtling back into national contention on the back of some standout performances in the Ranji and Duleep Trophies. Making his first class debut against Haryana at the Feroze Shah Kotla in 1997/98, Nehra scalped five wickets. Ajay Jadeja was the first of those, indeed he fell in both innings to the debutant, giving Nehra instant confidence that he could stand the heat at this level.
Nehra took 12 wickets in 3 games but was possibly denied more opportunities when Delhi, along with Tamil Nadu, were expelled from the competition on account of a pitch tampering fiasco. In his second season, Nehra did nothing out of the ordinary until Delhi ran into Tamil Nadu in a game with plenty of needle. He would have been pleased with a maiden 5-fer in first class cricket and the chain of events that followed was even more gratifying.
A sore shin had rendered Javagal Srinath hors de combat amidst the Asian Test Championship and, in their infinite wisdom, the selectors homed in on Nehra to fill the chasm. As Nehra confesses, he was not quite ready for the break. In his brief flirtation with national colours, Nehra savoured an early but, as it turned out, solitary success in the form of opener Marvan Atapattu on a true batting wicket.
Banished to the domestic arena, a stress fracture of his ankle truncated his 1999-2000 season but it was a harbinger of better things to come. In the past few months months, a fully recovered Nehra, whose natural rhythm gets the ball to swing into the righthander, has proved a handful for allcomers on the domestic circuit. Currently leading the Ranji Trophy tally with 36 wickets in five games at a miserly 12.83, Nehra's crowning glory however came in the Duleep Trophy last month.
Against East Zone at Guwahati, he snared 7/14, proving unplayable on what he generously suggests was an unprepared wicket. Selection amongst the 25 probables for the Test series against Australia was a natural corollary and the three wickets he took against the visitors in the tour game at Nagpur suggest he is bracing up for a second innings with the national team.