Ashish Nehra: The ageless wonder
In many ways, fast bowlers are like fine wine except when they are not. They are an acquired taste and take their time to mature. The longer they are left to be, the better they are. However, unlike wine, fast bowlers don't always get better with age (especially when the age crosses the big THREE-OH).
So when Ashish Nehra injured himself during the ICC World Cup 2011 semi-final against Pakistan trying to take a catch and missed the final, he would have feared the worst. Although he repaid the faith shown by MS Dhoni, who brought him in for Ravichandran Ashwin, he was 31.
March 30 2011. An integral part of India's victorious 2011 World Cup campaign, that remains his last ODI and would be his last international match for nearly five years. After a decade in international cricket, injuries seemed to have got the better of him and he looked destined to end his career after just 145 matches.
Yet, with Nehra, the mind has always been able to rule over a body that has often been ravaged by injury.
From the wilderness to the World T20
And so it proved to be the case. Few months short of his 37th birthday, nearly five years after his last international appearance for India, he was back in India's squad, for the T20I series against Australia in 2016.
Since returning to the T20I side last year, he has played 18 matches, picking up 21 wickets in the process. Like fine wine, five years out of the international arena seemed to have made him better and he quickly established himself as an integral part of the T20I side.
Such are the rigours of being a fast bowler, it is rare to see many flourish in their 30s. Years of toil finally start to take their toll and most pacers begin their slow but steady descent into oblivion as they cross the big THREE-OH.
Dale Steyn is unarguably the greatest fast bowler of his generation, but at 34, his body has already shown signs of wear and tear. He has struggled to complete an entire series in a couple of years and while he might still be potent when he is back to full fitness, he might never be able to recapture his vein-popping, angry-eyed monster that devoured batsmen and put the fear of god in them.
Even amongst fast bowlers who play just T20s, Nehra is beyond compare. While many, like John Hastings, choose to play just T20s in a bid to extend their careers, very few play much beyond their mid-30s. None of them represents their country and while the most similar comparison is that of Dirk Nannes, even he only played till he was 39, and that was merely domestic T20 competitions.
Nehra, who is currently 38, is still representing his country and doing them proud as well. While his recall to the squad to face Australia after being omitted for the one-off T20Is against West India and Sri Lanka might seem surprising, it is well-deserved nonetheless.
To the big FOUR-OH and beyond?
Considering his penchant for springing back to life when many have written him off, it wouldn't surprise many if the left-arm pacer continued for a while yet. The 2020 World T20 might be nearly three years away but no dream is too far for Nehra, who has come back to international cricket with plenty of vigour and the enthusiasm of a young kid eager to prove himself again.
So it is no wonder that he has the support of former Indian opener Virender Sehwag who spoke about the example of Sanath Jayasuriya when asked about players playing into their 40s. While neither player was a fast bowler, on whom demands are much higher, hence the relatively shorter shelf life, Nehra has continually shown that the mind has the power to rule over the body.
On the field, Nehra still exudes a child-like fascination for the game. For someone who began his international career in February 1999, to play for nearly two decades is simply unheard of. Especially for a fast bowler. But ask the man himself and he is happy to play as long as his body holds up, which he himself admits might not be for too long.
As he admitted himself, he has missed plenty of cricket in the last seven years but perhaps he can make up for lost time. His body might have let him down on several occasions throughout his career, but his desire to push himself is what still keeps him going. The will to play and compete at the highest level is what makes him such a threat even at the age of 38.
Perhaps that is why he might well break another milestone by not just enjoying a two-decade-long international career, which is unheard of for a fast bowler, but also play international cricket in his 40s and join an elite list he dared not even dream about when he injured himself in the 2011 World Cup semi-final against Pakistan.