| Ashish Nehra and Sachin Tendulkar bathe in Durban on Thursday. (Reuters)
Pretoria, Feb. 27: When just about everybody had almost given up on Ashish Nehra, Sourav Ganguly wanted him retained for the seven ODIs in New Zealand. The selectors obliged and, soon enough, Nehra was in the World Cup XV as well.
At Kingsmead last night, the left-armer reciprocated by single-handedly winning the must-win game against England. In just a few overs, India’s campaign got the lift-off of the season.
“I’d never seen an Indian author such a sustained spell of speed and accuracy... Nehra was fast and furious and just kept knocking the batsmen over.…” The captain couldn’t have paid a richer compliment.
The victory has, for all intents and purposes, given India a Super Six berth.
For a thick slice of doubt, or for India to be denied altogether, Pakistan has to win both its remaining matches (including the one versus India on Saturday) and England must upset holders Australia. Only then will three teams be on 16 points each. In that scenario, the net run rate will come into play.
Sourav is confident India can’t be stopped — and the confidence stems from Nehra’s stupendous show. It also gave him a platform to strike at former cricketers- turned-critics. “They are immature and very ordinary…. I shouldn’t even be commenting. Moreover, some are such a joke,” the captain spat out, with sarcasm that doesn’t come naturally.
The 82-run victory inspired rejoicing across Durban and the team hotel (Holiday Inn Elangeni) was swamped by fans. In keeping with the mood, the highly recommended restaurant there, Jewel of India, ran a late-night buffet.
To return to the Man of the Match, Nehra deserves more credit as he played with a swollen (and strapped) left ankle, owing to an injury in Pietermaritzburg.
“It’s a statement about his character.... A fitness test was held, but I’d left it to him... He had that hunger to play. Indeed, nobody was more keen to have a crack at England,” Sourav said.
[Later, he told The Telegraph, that the left-armer’s “talent” was the sole reason for such all-out backing. He added: “Whether Yuvraj or Harbhajan; Sehwag or Nehra, I’ve backed youngsters because of their talent. All are matchwinners and have proved to be so.”]
Though he must have been in some pain, Nehra preferred to talk about physio Andrew Leipus and not his own ankle. “Andrew must get all credit. He worked for two-three days and made sure I could take the field. What has made me bowl quicker' Fitness... fifty per cent of the pace comes through fitness.”
England captain Nasser Hussain acknowledged Nehra was much quicker compared to last year in England. “He hit the deck hard and was rewarded”
Nehra, who idolises Wasim Akram, felt it didn’t matter whether he got the new ball or was brought first change.
“Anything for the team.”