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Final day heroics turn Nehra’s ODI fortunes

Calcutta: Left-armer Ashish Nehra’s superb exhibition of swing bowling at express speed in Hamilton, Sunday, has earned him an unexpected place in the Indian XVI for the seven ODIs in New Zealand.

While Nehra has got one of two berths left vacant by the national selectors last Wednesday, the other has gone to rookie Rakesh Patel.

Now, Nehra will also be rather prominent in the World Cup-frame. Having literally come back from the dead, it’s unlikely he will let go the last set of opportunities before the quadrennial showpiece.

Nehra, who only played at the last-minute — he wasn’t in the XI decided upon on match-eve — scalped Wellington’s Man of the Match Mark Richardson, captain Stephen Fleming and Craig McMillan to post final-day figures of 13.2-3-29-3. In fact, he was unplayable in his second spell.

To quote former New Zealand captain Martin Crowe, Nehra was the “only bowler” to rise to the occasion as the home team pushed for a series-victory. He bowled well in the first innings too, getting two wickets. Belatedly, at least, Nehra proved that captain Sourav Ganguly’s near-blind faith in his abilities — for much of the time, that is — wasn’t misplaced.

According to The Telegraph’s sources, Sourav specifically asked for Nehra during his tele-conference with chief selector Brijesh Patel, shortly after the Test series ended at Westpac Park. Additionally, the captain is understood to have conveyed that instead of a batsman (Dinesh Mongia), the selectors should send an extra bowler.

And, so, while Nehra stays for the ODIs beginning December 26, Baroda’s 24-year-old Patel has earned his biggest call-up. The top loss has been Tinu Yohannan’s. The latter did get his chance in Hamilton, but didn’t set the Westpac Park on fire. Had Yohannan done a Nehra when New Zealand resumed at 24 for no loss, he wouldn’t have had to plan for ushering in the New Year in Thiruvananthapuram.

Mongia, in any case, wasn’t in the thinktank’s scheme of things. Rather, till Sunday’s developments, he was strictly the selectors’ choice to head for New Zealand.

With the ODI-squad now complete, Anil Kumble, Jawagal Srinath, Yuvraj Singh and Patel will join Sourav & Co. Returning home will be Murali Kartik, Shiv Sunder Das, Yohannan and Ajay Ratra.

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