Beaming a mile wide smile on his languid gait Ashish Nehra capped his 18-year long international career with a short run-up to bowl his final over at his home ground, Feroz Shah Kotla, in the first T20I against New Zealand on Wednesday.
The left-arm Indian pacer made his international debut back in February 1999 under Mohammad Azharuddin's captaincy during the Asian Test Championship. Despite an international career spanning close to two decades, Nehra managed to play a meagre 17 Tests of which the last one in 2004, primarily because his journey was knackered by several injuries.
While his brittle body hampered his chances of having a consistent run, the speedster's mental toughness, ability to bounce back after an injury and sheer determination makes for a fine case study for any fast bowler. Subsequently, it also helped the 38-year old to make several comebacks and play 120 ODIs and 27 T20Is for India. In the last phase of his career, the senior bowler shared his bowling acumen to best use passing on the reigns to the upcoming crop of Indian bowlers, earning nickname 'Nehraji' from his old pal and state teammate Virender Sehwag.
Here is look back at some of Ashish Nehra’s best performances:
Nehra's career-best 6-23 in Durban
Easily the finest hour in Delhi-based bowler’s career. With the Indian batsmen posting a fighting 250, the bowlers had their task well and truly cut out. Nehra took the responsibility of ripping apart England’s middle order. Nasser Hussain, Michael Vaughan, Alec Stewart and Paul Collingwood all fell to Nehra’s disciplined bowling. India won the match by a big margin of 82 runs, Nehra was awarded the Man of the Match and till date, it remains the best bowling figures (6-23) by an Indian bowler in World Cups. Those 'aeroplane' celebrations will remain etched in the memory of an Indian fan.
Last over in Karachi
In the first ODI of the famed 2004 tour of India to Pakistan, the first in 15 years, was a much-hyped and highly anticipated affair. The Indian batsmen posted a mammoth total of 350. Despite the huge total, Pakistan were on course to chase down the total with captain Inzamam-ul-Haq leading the chase with a superb century. It came down to the last over with nine runs required off six balls, with wicket-keeper batsmen Moin Khan still at the crease, it was home side's game to lose. The ball was thrown to Nehra to bowl the all-important over of the match against arch-rivals Pakistan. The left-arm pacer showed great heart by giving only three runs off the first five balls. Six runs were needed off the final ball with Khan on strike and animated Javed Miandad on balcony demonstrating how to clear the fence amidst the frenzy Nehra held his nerve ensuring the ghosts of Miandad's last ball six never got the better of the bowler. Khan was dismissed off the last ball and India won the game by five runs. India eventually went on to win the closely-fought series 3-2.
Nehra guides India to Asia Cup crown
Nehra's accurate bowling broke Sri Lanka's back, bagging key wickets of Mahela Jayawardene, Kumara Sangakkara and Angelo Mathews. The lanky pacer ensured that the Lankans never got close to India's first innings score of 268. He was the pick of the Indian bowlers with finishing with impressive figures of 4 for 40 making sure India take the 2010 Asia Cup home.
Nehra's six-for remains the silver lining
Nehra completed his ODI career's second six-wicket haul wrecking the Lankan top order dismissing – Marvan Attapattu, Dilhara Lokuhettige and Sangakkara – inside the first 15 overs. Despite Nehra’s efforts the Lankans went on to post 281/9 in their 50 overs. No other bowler managed to bag a wicket with Nehra's six and three run outs. Indian batsmen faltered in the chase falling short by 18 runs and losing the final of the Indian Oil Cup ending the left-arm bowler’s efforts in vain.
Unsung hero's splendid spell in World Cup, 2011 semi-final
Nehra faced a lot of wrath for bowling the last over against South Africa in an earlier group game in the 2011 World Cup at Nagpur, as he failed to defend 13 runs off his final overs. He was instantly tainted as the villain of the match. The Delhi-based pacer was not a part of the XI in the couple of games that followed, including the quarter-finals against Australia. He was included in the XI for the high-profile game against Pakistan in a World Cup semi-final at Mohali. For Pakistan, to progress into the finals they needed 261 off the 50 overs. Nehra bowled splendidly in the intense game and remained the unsung hero of the match finishing with excellent figures off 33 runs in his quota of 10 overs picking two wickets on his way. Unfortunately, he couldn’t take part in the World Cup-winning final against Sri Lanka as he injured his fingers during the semi-final clash.
Fast bowling is easily one of the most physically challenging jobs in sports. To regularly bowl for 18 years and battle injuries can often deflate the best. According to the man himself, he went under the knife as many as twelve times but Nehra's passion and love for the sport kept him going.