Springboard to Test arena
Incredible, but Ashish Nehra's entry into the Indian Test XI was solely based on his showing in a single Ranji Trophy Super League tie. It was the 1998-99 season and Nehra had taken a mere 12 wickets in five matches in the competition. On February 14, the 19-year-old, just into his second first-class season, opened the attack for Delhi in a routine clash against Tamil Nadu at the Feroze Shah Kotla.
Visiting skipper Robin Singh won the toss and elected to make first use of the wicket. Although Sridharan Sharath held out the major flicker of resistance with an exact one hundred, he had to concede star billing to the teenaged left-arm quick. In the vanguard of Delhi's attack, Nehra ensnared a maiden five wicket haul in first-class cricket to see off Tamil Nadu for 239.
Slicing open the top-order, Nehra marched off veteran Woorkeri Raman for a first ball duck in his fourth over, and opener Anand George shortly afterwards. The innings sputtering at 42/3, Sharath and his fellow lefthander Hemang Badani set about repairing the breach, adding 94 for the fourth wicket.
Following Badani's dismissal, Nehra quickly snuffed out Robin Singh's tenure at the wicket, trapping him leg before for eight. Tamil Nadu recovered to 228/6 before one final Nehra fling consigned them to history. In three consecutive overs, he ripped out the last three wickets beginning with Sadagopan Mahesh for a fifth ball duck. Sharath duly brought up his hundred only to immediately find his furniture in a shambles to a Nehra delivery. And next morning, last man P Subbiah was dispatched in similar fashion as Nehra closed out figures of 6/63.
An unbeaten 200 from skipper Ajay Sharma helped Delhi pile 422 on the board for a lead of 183. On the fourth and final day, Tamil Nadu held out for a draw, but not before Nehra added two more scalps to take his match tally to 8/107. Sure, it was a heartening occasion for a rookie fast bowler but even the most insightful soothsayer could not have divined that precisely a week later he would be operating the new ball for India.
Ranji Trophy 1998-99
Delhi v Tamil Nadu at Delhi, 14-17 Feb 1999