The cricket world at large might have felt time had passed him by, but Ashish Nehra didn’t share a similar sentiment. The man who made his international debut in slightly colourful circumstances in February 1999 returned to the Indian team earlier this year after nearly four years in the wilderness, time put to good use as subsequent events have showcased.

At 36, an age at which even batsmen aren’t so much as touched with a barge pole in Indian cricket, Nehra the paceman was resurrected with the ICC World Twenty20 in mind. The left-arm quick from New Delhi hasn’t disappointed; he has been a vital cog in an Indian bowling wheel unrecognisable from the profligate, generous group against South Africa in October, handling the new ball with dexterity and summoning his years of experience at the death to hold his own when the batsmen are looking to tee off.

In 12 T20 Internationals since his comeback in Australia towards the end of January, Nehra has picked up 15 wickets. His economy has been more than passable – 7.29 as opposed to a career T20I economy of 7.95 in 20 games – and, along with Jasprit Bumrah, he has ensured that the bowling attack isn’t as reliant on R Ashwin as the batting unit is on Virat Kohli.

“I’m loving it," said Nehra on Tuesday (March 22), ahead of India’s Super 10 Group 2 showdown against Bangladesh, of his potentially final coming in international cricket. “Whatever responsibility the captain and the team management have given me, I’m just trying to do whatever best I can. I will try to play as long as I can, as long as my body holds up, and keep working hard. I’m really enjoying it; any cricketer will enjoy playing international cricket and do well, and my aim is the same.

“I’ve been working hard for the last three-four years, my main motive was to keep working hard. I wasn’t somebody just working hard to play domestic cricket or IPL. I always trained or worked hard to play international cricket, that’s how you make a comeback."

Like Zaheer Khan was until a couple of years back, Nehra has slipped into the role of a bowling mentor for a young core pace group, a role he is clearly enjoying. “The experience I have from playing for the last 16-17 years, for whichever bowlers, whether it is Bhuvneshwar Kumar or Bumrah and (Mohammed) Shami, I try to pass it on to them. Everyone knows how talented they are, how they have performed, especially Jasprit Bumrah as you have seen in the last two-three months. Whatever help I can offer, I will.

“This is not the first time I’m bowling two-three overs in first six or bowling one or two overs in the last four – that’s my job, and till the time I’m doing that job, it means I’m right up there, I’m doing whatever is supposed to be done," he went on. “I always love to be in the top two bowlers in my team who can bowl up front and bowl at the death. Till the time I’m doing that, I’m really happy."

India bounced back from defeat at the hands of New Zealand to drub Pakistan in their previous game, and while there is work to be done on the run rate front, there is every reason for optimism, Nehra pronounced. “The mood is good, we are very confident. In this format, from game one, more or less every game is a knockout game. Only two teams will qualify (for the semifinal), there is a possibility that out of four games if you win three, you may still not qualify. Till the time you don’t lift the trophy, every game is a knockout game, there’s not too much room for error. The kind of cricket we have been playing in the last two-three months, the kind of firepower we have, if we deliver, we’ll definitely win the game. Before the net run-rate, the main thing is winning the game."

Nehra talked up embattled Bangladesh, adding that the T20 game was such that nothing panned out the way people expected them to. “Twenty-over cricket is such that any team can challenge anyone," he remarked, conceding that while Bangladesh would miss the suspended Taskin Ahmed and Arafat Sunny, they were still a strong side. “Taskin Ahmed has been a very important bowler for them, but at the same time Mustafizur Rahman, who did not play two-three matches in between because of a side strain, he is back. Al-Amin (Hossain) is there. They have depth in bowling. Shakib Al Hasan is a very good allrounder, so I don’t think their bowling is weakened in any way because of one or two players not being there.

“Bangladesh have been doing good, everybody knows. They played the Asia Cup finals with us, there were other teams like Pakistan and Sri Lanka also, they have beaten them. Especially in this format, you can’t take any team lightly. The way Bangladesh have progressed in the last three-four years is amazing. We will have to play to our potential to beat a team like Bangladesh. It’s not like you can take it easy. The way Bangladesh cricket is going is definitely good for world cricket."

Nehra clearly has been impressed with what he has seen leaving Mustafizur’s left hand. From one left-arm paceman to another, he paid wonderful compliments to his Bangladeshi counterpart. “Especially in this format, he has been in really good form, and the kind of slower ball he bowls — he’s got a very god-gifted slower ball, he has a very good action," he gushed, slipping into the role of senior statesman. “He’s a very good future prospect, especially in one-day cricket and T20 cricket. The good thing is, in the IPL he’s in my team (Sunrisers Hyderabad), so definitely it will be a help for me as well!"

The Nehra brand of humour, often underrated and understated but clearly a thing of beauty, sent the attendant media corps into a laughing tizzy as his reactions were sought to social media ridicule of the Indian team, during the bilateral One-Day International series and during this year’s Asia Cup, both in Mirpur. “You’re asking this question to the wrong person, because I am somebody who is not on social media, and I’m still using my old Nokia," he quipped, with a half-smile playing on his lips. “I am not on Facebook, Twitter and stuff, and I don’t read newspapers. Maybe I’m from the old school." And as quickly as that, the half-smile mushroomed into full-blown laughter. This Nehra ji, he sure is loving it, and isn’t chary of showing it, too.

R Kaushik is Deputy Editor at Wisden India. Mint is in content partnership with Wisden India for 2016 ICC World T20.

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