indian cricket

From once being a meme magnet, Nehraji’s undying spirit ensures he will retire as a legend

Cricket was the only thing he knew and nothing could stop him from playing the game and striving to play it at the highest level.

Ashish Nehra announced his retirement in his usual tongue-in-cheek style. He also made it clear that, unlike most players who stick around for a season or two of the Indian Premier League after leaving international cricket, he doesn’t want to take phase-wise retirement.

“That’s my decision, once I leave, I will leave. I won’t even play the IPL,” said Nehra in his trademark innocent, quirky way. Ian Chappell, who is a straight shooter like Nehra, was once asked about retired players participating in veteran cricket leagues post-retirement and his terse response was, “Mate, I thought people take retirement to play stop playing cricket”. Nehra would agree.

The legend of Nehra

As Nehra leaves the game, his legend has attained mythical proportions. By now, an average cricket fan would have read tons of articles about how the world looked like when Nehra started playing. For me, it’s impossible to forget Nehra’s debut Test simply because he was the first left-arm Indian seamer I ever saw.

At a time when Sri Lanka was distributing international caps to left-arm quicks by the dozen, with Chaminda Vaas, Nuwan Zoysa, Sanjeeva de Silva, and Ruchira Perera all representing the country in the late ’90s, it was apt that Nehra would make his Test debut against the islanders in 1999. The last Indian left-arm seamer to play for India was Karsan Ghavri who retired in 1981, so Nehra’s debut was an event even before he bowled a single delivery.

On a placid Colombo wicket, Nehra was made to toil for 28 overs for one wicket. His next outing was in Bulawayo two years later where he swung the ball prodigiously and looked unplayable with the new cherry. With his whippy action and ability to move the ball, he immediately drew comparisons with Wasim Akram, but in a start-stop career, he could never really fulfill his potential.

In a batting-obsessed nation, Nehra was often made the fall guy for India’s defeats in his long career, and as social media started finding easy targets to make jokes on, he became the butt of hundreds of memes on Twitter and Facebook.

A defeat against South Africa in the 2011 World Cup was one such instance where Nehra was singled out by unforgiving fans. To survive as a fast bowler in India, you need to have a sense of humour and a thick skin. Nehra had both.

The next game he played after that loss was the semi-final against Pakistan, where he tied the opposition batsmen down with his accuracy. He picked two wickets while conceding just 33 runs in his 10 overs when India weren’t defending too many. This eventually turned out to be his last ODI game for India.

Second life as a T20 cricketer

Nehra’s body wasn’t cut out for fast bowling, but he compensated for it with his undying spirit. In a recent interview, Nehra recalled how he has survived 12 surgeries through rigorous and painful rehabilitation. Cricket was the only thing he knew and nothing could stop him from playing the game and striving to play it at the highest level.

T20 cricket came as a boon for Nehra’s struggling body and abundance of skills. Hailed by many as a team man and a lively dressing-room presence, it wasn’t surprising that top IPL franchises bid heavily to have him in their team.

T20 cricket came as a boon for Nehra’s struggling body and abundance of skills (Image: BCCI/IPL)
T20 cricket came as a boon for Nehra’s struggling body and abundance of skills (Image: BCCI/IPL)

After a sequence of successful seasons for Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings, the forgotten man of Indian cricket was recalled to the national team almost five years after his last international game in a bid to win the 2016 World Twenty20.

A veteran in the squad by now, Nehra led India’s bowling attack in the T20 World Cup at home. When Dhoni needed ideas in a crunch game against Bangladesh in Bangalore, Nehra was animated in his advice to Hardik Pandya and MS Dhoni. Nehra was taking responsibility, he was the bowling captain of the side now.

A bloody minded competitor

When Nehra was fully fit, he could bowl like a dream, as he did during India’s 2003 World Cup campaign. A few of us rubbed our eyes when Nehra clocked 150 kph on the speed gun. He was a rhythm bowler and his slingy action allowed him to generate extra pace. His spell of 6/23 against England is still hailed as one of the best spells of fast bowling by an Indian in an ODI game.

But in Nehra’s own words, the biggest over of his life was bowled in Pakistan when he defended six runs in the last over against Moin Khan in a high-scoring game.

Nehra has always had doubters but he never saw any reason to doubt himself. He had almost a false sense of confidence in his abilities, a swag that would shame a rapper. It is that utter belief in himself that has allowed Nehra to play for so long and make so many comebacks. He never thought much of his detractors, he only knew how to train hard and bowl quick and he wanted to do it for as long as possible.

As Tom Hanks’s Forrest Gump famously said, “I am not a smart man, But I know what love is.” For Nehraji, as he is endearingly known now in social media circles, cricket was love.

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Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

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According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.


During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.