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‘I trained every day to play for India’

Ashish Nehra, India’s ageless wonder decides to retire after the first T20I against New Zealand

When Ashish Nehra made his international debut back in 1998, Kuldeep Yadav, India’s mystery spinner was just four. The lanky bowler burst onto the scene with a not-so-smooth action, but the one that sent the ball at high pace. When he traveled outside, his pace combined with swing, making life difficult for the batsmen. Eighteen years since he debuted, Nehra underwent over 10 surgeries owing to that action but not once did he compromise on pace.

Once considered a platform for the youngsters, Nehra, 38, has adjusted seamlessly to the rigors of T20. The way he bowls, he can continue to bowl till he is 40. However, the performance of India’s current pace battery has delighted him and he wants those considerably younger than him to enjoy a longer run. 

Ahead of the third and final T20 against Australia in Hyderabad, Nehra announced his retirement plan. India’s ageless wonder will give those worn out shoes the much-required rest after the first T20I against New Zealand in Delhi. In front of his family and fans, Nehra will don the blues at the Feroz Shah Kotla, his home ground. “It is my own decision, I have spoken to the team management as well as the chairman of the selection committee. I’m really lucky, it can’t get bigger than getting to retire in front of your home crowd,” said Nehra.

While memories of his magical spell of 6/23 against England in the 2003 World Cup are still fresh, he played a crucial role in India’s World Cup win 2011. His economical spell of 2/33 against Pakistan in the semi-final helped India make the final which he unfortunately missed owing to a fractured finger. 

Highlighting his thought process behind the big call, he said, “I have given it (retirement) a good thought, especially with the way Bhuvi (Bhuvneshwar Kumar) and (Jasprit) Bumrah have been bowling over the past six months,” he said. “When I came into this series, I had come prepared to bowl. The day I linked up with this squad, I spoke to the captain and coach about my plan, because whenever Ashish Nehra is in the side he plays in the XI; he doesn’t sit out, we’ve seen that in the T20s over the last couple of years.

“I feel Bhuvneshwar is ready, the way he has been bowling, and there is no big event in the next five or six months, like a World Cup or anything. It’s very important to me what people in the dressing room think. Now they say you can easily play for one more year. I’ve been a believer of the fact that it’s always good to retire when people ask why and not why not.”

He made is clear that 1st November will be last day as a professional cricketer. “I put my point of view to them. This is how I feel and this is my thought. Obviously, I could still play. But the first thing Virat said was you can still play, then second thing he said you could play IPL. It's good that people still think I can play. It was a tough decision for me, but they all respect my decision.

“Every individual has certain strengths and certain weaknesses. I was always mentally strong. I am that sort of a person who trains day in and day out to play for India. Like I said, I could have played easily one more year of international cricket. People said you are retiring in November, you can still play the next IPL which is just five months away. But it's my decision that if I leave, I will leave completely, I won't even play the IPL."

Moulin Parikh
Moulin Parikh

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Wanted to leave a strong imprint: Kuldeep

Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Kuldeep Yadav, the two architects of India's 50-run win in 2nd ODI analyze the match

In the first ODI at Chennai, India's young spinner Kuldeep Yadav picked two big wickets from the four overs he bowled. His first victim was David Warner, the dangerous opening batsman, and all-rounder Marcus Stoinis.

India took a 1-0 lead and the performance of both Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep was highly praised. It was Kuldeep's first ODI against Australia, but he wasn't content. Barely 15 minutes after the game, he had begun planning for the 2nd ODI at Kolkata. Kuldeep was smashed for three sixes and a four in one over by Glenn Maxwell and the spinner was confident he could have done better.

The two days post that rain-truncated ODI in Chennai did not help much as India entered the 2nd ODI without a practice session as the covers were for both days leading up to the ODI. In Kolkata, Kuldeep was introduced in the 16th over, but the action unfolded in his third over when this time Maxwell again cleared the fence on two occasions.

Chahal removed Maxwell from the other end and the onus was on Kuldeep to capitalize. In the 33rd over, history was created at the Eden Gardens for one more time. For ardent cricket fans in Kolkata, it was a trip down the memory lane as Kuldeep removed Matthew Wade, Ashton Agar and Pat Cummins in three balls to become the third Indian after Chetan Sharma and Kapil Dev to take a hat-trick in ODIs.
Incidentally, Kapil Dev too took a hat-trick at the Eden Gardens where Harabhajan Singh too tormented the Aussies in that epic Test with a hat-trick in 2001.

A lot of credit for India's 50 run win goes to Bhuvneshwar Kumar, the silent performer who made 20 with the bat in an important 35-run stand with Hardik Pandya for the seventh wicket and bowled a terrific opening spell of 6-2-9-2.

The two stars of the match later forged another partnership in front of the camera as they analyzed the match forbcci.tv.

Here’s what the two discussed.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar: You are the third Indian to take a hat-trick? Did you think it was possible?

Kuldeep Yadav: It feels really special now, as that start was not good. With the kind of start I had, I never thought I would end up taking a hat-trick. I did not bowl well from one end and it was getting difficult to grip the ball as it was getting wet. When my end was changed, I wanted to pick one wicket to put the pressure back on Australia. A partnership was built and it was crucial for us to get a breakthrough at that moment. I wanted to try out my variations, but was looking to land the ball in the right areas.

Bhuvi: You play for KKR. You must have felt familiar playing here at the Eden Gardens.

Kuldeep: Yes, I have been playing at the Eden Gardens for a few years now as it is KKR's home ground. The pitch was familiar. It felt like a home ground to me today as well when I stepped out and that is why I wanted to leave a big imprint.

Bhuvi: Let’s talk about your variations and the hat-trick. What was your plan for the hat-trick ball?

Kuldeep: For the hat-trick ball, I didn't think I would get a wicket if the ball spun in. The only way in that scenario would have been a bat-pad opportunity. There was a slip in place so I chose the wrong’un.

Kuldeep: Everyone knows you bowl well with the new ball and are equally effective when the ball gets old. What are the things you focus when you are handed a new ball?

Bhuvi: We knew that we had to take wickets at regular intervals to win the match as our total was 251. I try not to put extra pressure on me and not get too desperate for a wicket. I wanted to swing the ball and bowl as many dots as possible.

You bowled very well to David Warner. You play for SRH, but I have noticed that he does not read you. You dismissed him cheaply today.

Bhuvi: I know what his strengths and weaknesses are as I bowl a lot to him in the nets. He also knows my weaker areas. He knows what length I am going to bowl, but a lot depends on how well you execute your plans. During Test matches, catches had gone down and today his catch was taken and that is a part and parcel of the game. You need a bit of luck going your way.

Kuldeep: Since the Sri Lanka tour, you have been contributing regularly with the bat. You did that in Chennai and again helped us get a competitive total in Kolkata? Have you changed anything?

Bhuvi: I haven't changed my approach much, but I am a lot more confident about my batting thanks to Assistant Coach Sanjay Bangar. He works hard on my batting in the nets. He said I can contribute with the bat in ODIs too. I know I can't hit sixes like MS Dhoni or Hardik Pandya does, but when there is a situation where you have to bat for 15 or 20 overs, I can handle that well. The half-century in Sri Lanka (53 not out) came under similar circumstances and it gave me a lot of confidence.

Kuldeep: What was your first reaction when Hardik Pandya at the other end got hit by your ferocious stroke?

Bhuvi: I checked my bat just to reconfirm that it was indeed me who struck the ball with so much power. When he got hit, we were all worried. It looked like a serious blow, but thankfully he was alright. Once he was back on his feet, we began planning about building a partnership.

Moulin Parikh
Moulin Parikh

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