SK Flashback: Ashish Nehra’s night to remember against England in the 2003 World Cup
The game of cricket tends to perplex even the experts. A team rolls over another when the forecast gave each a 50 percent chance at the half-way stage. Or sometimes, a player comes out of nowhere and puts in a performance for the ages.
Ashish Nehra was a revelation at the 2003 World Cup. And nobody could have seen that coming.
The frail 23-year-old left-armer, known to swing the ball both ways, was injury-prone and seemed to be languishing in the doldrums 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 in the nets that others had not.
As it turned out, they were right. Nehra astounded with his speed, touching almost 150 kph, and consistently bowling at 90 mph (144 kph). That was about as fast as Shane Bond, third quickest in the world after Shaoib Akhtar and Brett Lee then.
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 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 pace for the batsmen to play their shots, and carry for the bowlers to beat the bat. At night it probably skidded a little more.
Zaheer Khan and Javagal Srinath bowled with hostility and discipline, beating the bat often, but Mohammad Kaif’s Jonty Rhodes-like run out of Nick Knight gave the breakthrough. Zaheer then dismissed Marcus Trescothick. After that, it was Nehra’s match.
With the seamers keeping the batsmen on a tight leash, skipper Nasser Hussain tried jumping out of the crease but could not break the shackles. He perished, caught at the wicket, trying to steer Nehra.
There was mayhem to follow as Nehra straightened the next ball, rapping Alec Stewart on the pads plumb in front of the stumps. 10 runs later, the prolific Michael Vaughan nicked one, 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 left-armer into Dravid’s gloves to give Nehra his first five-wicket haul in one-dayers.
He celebrated by having Ronnie Irani taken at first slip by Sehwag. England were 107 for eight, and the match was all but over.
Nehra took six for 23 in his unchanged 10-over spell, still the best figures for India in the World Cup.
India’s campaign was back on track, the recent tribulations replaced by unconcealed joy. Headlines spoke of Wasim Akram’s tips that helped Nehra, and of a penetrative attack to complement India’s world-class batsmen.
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.
India: 250 for 9 wickets (50 overs), England: 168 all out (45.3 overs) (CWC 2003)
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