Ashish Nehra was a revelation. The frail 23-year-old left-armer, known to swing the ball both ways, was injury-prone and seemed to be languishing after a promising start to his career. In the previous game he bowled just one delivery, twisting his ankle and retiring to the physiotherapist’s table. With the ankle still a bit swollen, the team think-tank’s faith in him was surprising considering that he had not set anything ablaze in the recent past. Perhaps they had seen something of him in the nets that others had not.
Indeed, they had. Nehra astounded with his speed, touching almost 150 kph, and consistently bowling at 90 mph (144 kph). That is about as fast as Shane Bond, third quickest in the world after Shaoib Akhtar and Brett Lee. Pace was just one aspect of Nehra’s heroics on this day. He raced in and bowled so close to the stumps over-the-wicket that his sleeve often brushed the umpire’s. He followed the basics, keeping the ball up, and around the off-stump. There was no prodigious swing but he seamed the ball away just that little bit, or straightened it a trifle, keeping the batsmen on tenterhooks.
The Indian batsmen had scored a round 250. No one was sure whether the competent English line-up could better that under lights. The Kingsmead wicket, notorious for its bounce, seemed lively but well behaved, affording enough carry for the batsmen to play their shots, and carry for the bowlers to beat the bat. At night it probably skidded a little more.
Soon it was Nehra’s match. Skipper Nasser Hussain was caught at the wicket, trying to steer Nehra. There was mayhem as Nehra straightened the next ball, rapping Alec Stewart on the pads plumb in front of the stumps. Ten runs later, the prolific Michael Vaughan nicked Nehra, and Rahul Dravid gleefully accepted his 50th catch as wicketkeeper. Half the English side had gone for 62. Nehra was on full throttle.
The only real fight came from the burly Andrew Flintoff. Paul Collingwood briefly helped stave off the inevitable until Nehra had him edging to Virender Sehwag at second slip. Craig White snicked the persistent Nehra into Dravid’s gloves. This was Nehra’s first five-wicket haul in One-dayers. He celebrated by having Ronnie Irani taken at first slip by Sehwag. England were 107 for eight.
The match was all but over. Nehra took six for 23 in his unchanged 10-over spell, best figures for India in the World Cup. Nehra’s guru, the noted coach Tarak Sinha of Delhi’s Sonnet Club, revealed that Nehra’s delivery stride was shortened to help generate speed and prevent undue strain on his slender body. That explained the readings on the speed gun. The frail young man would not be taken lightly anymore.
(Author Indra Vikram Singh can be contacted on email email@example.com).
The Big Book of World Cup Cricket 1975-2011
Published in India by Sporting Links