Nehra farewell made sweeter as India trump New ZealandNovember 2, 2017
NEW DELHI: The far end of the Ferozeshah Kotla – the Stadium End – boldly read ‘Ashish Nehra End’. It was an official designation, albeit just for a day but the local association had done its bit in honouring one of its World Cup heroes playing his final international game. It was Nehra’s night and his mates in blue made sure it was a memorable one.
As Nehra, sporting a stubble, sent down the final ball of the match and his career, an expected yorker outside the off-stump, India finally broke the jinx against New Zealand in T20Is with an emphatic 53-run victory.
Nehra’s agonising injury-marred start-stop career came to an end in front of a cheering home crowd. The goodbye lap around the Kotla was greeted with loud cheers for ‘Nehra-ji’.
Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan threatened to do what no other opening pair has done in T20 cricket – bat till the 16th over – till Ish Sodhi had Dhawan stumped with India’s total at 158. Rohit hit 80 off 55 balls and Shikhar a 52-ball 80.
Nehra’s last two captains in his 18-year-long career, Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni, got off the mark hitting the ball to the stand bearing Nehra’s name. The party was on, nostalgia sweeping across the ground. India had posted 202/3 on a track that took prodigious turn at times. New Zealand walked off with the heavy burden of having dropped Rohit, Shikhar and Kohli.
Hardik Pandya’s running catch at long-off – off Chahal – to dismiss Martin Guptill in the second over showed how every facet of India’s game came together on the night. The team sang a fine tune to bid an appropriate adieu to the man who has been pivotal in two of India’s most memorable World Cup campaigns in contemporary cricket.
Nehra, running in from his end, making him the second bowler after James Anderson to do so, seemed like a script written for a perfect farewell party. The Kiwi chase never threatened and the second half of the match became a literal compilation of moments for Nehra.
The evening’s first grimace came when Dhoni’s outstretched hands palmed a mistimed tap off Nehra down the leg-side. The grimace soon gave way to a smile and the memories of Nehra unapologetically swearing at a young Dhoni for dropping Shahid Afridi came flooding back.
Then, Kohli palmed away Kane Williamson’s lofted drive at mid-off. This time the smile seemed to pardon the ‘little boy’ who once received a trophy from Nehra. That photograph – which has gone viral – has made Nehra’s last comeback to international cricket all the more romantic.
Flipping through the history books, one realized cricket is perhaps not used to sparkling performances in hyped farewell games. Nehra’s final figures of 4-0-29-0 vindicated the team management’s will to persist with him in the shorter formats over the last 21 months.
As Nehra walked off the ground, the crowd crying out his name, he would realize Indian cricket has grown substantially on the energy and exuberance brought in by the Indian batch of early 2000s. The Rohit-Dhawan partnership, the immaculate catching and run-outs and the chest-thumping confidence are all the result of the seeds sown in the young Nehras, Zaheers, Yuvrajs and Harbhajans.