Sitting out of playing XI might have hastened Nehra's exit

Ashish Nehra had been thinking about retirement plans for a while, but his non-inclusion in the first XI for the first two T20Is against Australia might have hastened the call. He also said that playing for India was always the motivation for him, which is why he has retired from all official cricket. He will end his 18-year international career with the T20I against New Zealand at the Feroz Shah Kotla, his home ground, on November 1.

“No particular reason. At one point everyone knows [that it is time to quit]. It’s not an overnight decision,” Nehra said on the eve of the final T20I against Australia. “It’s my own decision. I have given it a good thought. When I came into this series, I had come prepared to bowl. The day I linked up with this squad, I spoke to the captain and coach about my plan because whenever Ashish Nehra is in the side he plays in the XI, he doesn’t sit out. We’ve seen that in the T20s over the last couple of years.

“I feel Bhuvneshwar [Kumar] is ready, the way he has been bowling. And there is no big event in the next five or six months, like a World Cup. I think this is the way forward, especially the manner in which Bhuvneshwar has been bowling in the last couple of years, whenever I’ve played with [Jasprit] Bumrah, either of Bhuvi or [Mohammed] Shami have had to sit out. So I think this is the right time [to retire] and I think people are welcoming it. I came prepared to play in this series, but I also put across my point of view. If they ask me to play in the XI, I’m available.

“It’s very important to me what people in the dressing room think. Now, they say you can easily play for one more year. I’ve been a believer of the fact that it’s always good to retire when people ask why and not why not. And it can’t get bigger than the fact that I’m retiring at home. I played my first Ranji game there 20 years ago.”

Nehra said he had first sounded out captain Virat Kohli and head coach Ravi Shastri about his intention to retire before going through with his decision. “Like I said, I put my point of view to them,” he said. “This is how I feel and this is my thought. Obviously, I could still play. But the first thing Virat said was you can still play, then second thing he said you could play IPL. It’s good that people still think I can play. It was a tough decision for me, but they all respect my decision.”

While Nehra’s career will be remembered for being ridden with injuries, he also gained a reputation for making stirring comebacks out of nowhere. His most recent comeback in 2016 after being out of the team for five years marked the start of one of the more successful phases of his career. Since the start of 2016, Nehra has picked 21 wickets from 18 T20Is at an average of 21.66. Nehra also enjoyed a successful World T20 campaign where he was India’s joint-highest wicket-taker with five scalps from five games going at less than six runs per over. In the IPL, too, over the last few years, he has been one of the go-to fast bowlers for captains – first for MS Dhoni at Chennai Super Kings and then David Warner at Sunrisers Hyderabad. Nehra said his ability to bounce back from injuries made a difference to his life off the field as well.

“For me the true measure of success is how many times you bounce back from failure,” he said. “When you are always on top, you don’t know how to come back up after a failure. People have always said that you’ve had 11-12 surgeries, how you made a comeback despite that. But they have made me mentally strong. When you make a century or take a five-for, everyone is with you but your character comes when you are not doing well and bounce back from it. It has made a difference even in my normal life, apart from my cricketing life.

“[My second coming since 2016] has been great. Like, in between, unfortunately, the problem in India is people count you as playing only when you are playing international cricket or the IPL. In India, only 15 [players] can play at a time, and if you combine all formats maybe 20-25. I was still playing IPL regularly. Last two-three years has been a great journey. I always feel it is not how you start, but how you finish.

“Every individual has certain strengths and certain weaknesses. I was always mentally strong. I am that sort of a person who trains day in and day out to play for India. Like I said, I could have played easily one more year of international cricket. People said you are retiring in November, you can still play the next IPL which is just five months away. But it’s my decision that if I leave, I will leave completely, I won’t even play the IPL.”

While any highlights reel of Nehra would unfailingly feature his spell of 6 for 23 against England in the 2003 World Cup, the man himself felt he couldn’t point to one standout memory from his career. “When you are playing cricket, every day is a memory,” he said. “This is something you are doing day in and day out. People will always remember you for moments in international cricket. But, for me there are times in domestic cricket or the IPL, when you may not pick up wickets but you still enjoy. When it comes to cricket world or media, people remember Ashish Nehra bowling the last over in Karachi or the six wickets against England. But for me those are not the only memories. Because in cricket you win some, you lose some. I will always go thinking that I must be doing something good so that captain asks me to bowl the last over. Result might not go your way. For me playing for India, winning the World Cup [in 2011], losing the [2003] final, T20I world cup, I have seen all the ups and downs.”

Nehra said he hadn’t given his post-retirement life a thought yet and that he had made plans only for November 1. “I haven’t thought of it yet. All those options are open, either coaching or mentoring. I haven’t decided yet. I am always somebody who takes one series at a time,” he said.

Nehra, however, ruled out any possibility of a comeback. “I am not playing IPL, so you can judge me from that,” he said. “So many people will play one or two years or IPL [after retiring from international cricket]. Once I’ve decided something then it’s final, there is no going back on that. I always said, never say never, but it’s not applicable in this case.”

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