Nearly five years after he last put on the Indian cricket team jersey, Ashish Nehra, now almost 37 years old, played for India again in the first of the three-match T20 series against Australia on Wednesday. Nehra, whose last international match was the semi-final of the 2011 World Cup, has earned his spot through consistent performances for Chennai Super Kings in the Indian Premier League (IPL). He looked ageless on the field and bowled a reasonable spell, picking up one wicket.

In an interview before the match, Nehra, who has been playing cricket for nearly two decades, exhibited a sense of acceptance about his vacillating career, but also revealed some frustration at the status of bowlers in India. Edited excerpts:

You are making a comeback to the national team at almost 37, and that too in a format supposedly built for young legs...

I don’t think Twenty20 is just a young man’s game. Be it a fast bowler or spinner, age is irrelevant. Look at Brad Hogg (the Australian spinner plays in the Big Bash tournament, a domestic T20 tournament played in Australia, at almost 45). Of course, this is a tez (fast) format, but if your fitness is good, you will do well. There are so many older players around the world. Look at M.S. Dhoni (he is 34).

Your story has not been without its low points. After the World Cup in 2011, you were not picked for nearly five years. Why do you think that happened?

You should ask the selectors. Yes, in between I was injured for a while, but why I was not picked for so long I don’t know.

But doesn’t it sometimes make you angry? You had a good run in One Day Internationals (ODIs), yet you were ignored.

Angry? Nah! Time has taught me some great lessons of life. You can’t change your past, but your present can change your future.

The IPL gave you a fresh lease of life...

(Laughing) Indeed, IPL was the turning point, if you want to say that. But so also was the Champions League T20, in which I bowled well. That gave me the belief that age is just a number, boss.

Do you think your story can inspire bowlers such as Irfan Pathan and R.P. Singh who have also been out of the Indian team for many years?

We are obsessed with players’ ages. Don’t write anyone off. Khatam koi nahi hota yaar (no one is finished). If you work hard for six months, you can always make a comeback. It doesn’t matter whether you are 21, 25 or 35.

There is a famous picture of you giving an award to a very young Virat Kohli in a league game in Delhi. How does it feel to be now playing with players so much younger than you?

Oh, that picture I vividly remember. That is after the 2003 World Cup, when Raj Kumar Sharma (Virat Kohli’s coach) had invited me to his academy. It feels great to see that kid is now so successful. I always believe that if a 40-year-old and a 30-year-old are performing equally well, you can prefer the latter. But just because someone is 40, you should not ignore his performance. International cricket is not Under-19 cricket.

Today, everyone wants to become a batsman like Kohli and not a bowler. Do bowlers not get their due in this game?

No, it’s not like that. In England and Australia, (James) Anderson and (Alastair) Cook are both great, (Ricky) Ponting and (Steve) Waugh are not greater than (Shane) Warne and (Glenn) McGrath. In India, it’s a different story, but I am least bothered.

Look at the pricing of Indian bowlers and Indian batsmen in the IPL. It’s difficult to answer why this happens.

Do you think that is the reason why our bowling attack has suffered?

There are certainly 10-15 talented bowlers in this country, but fast bowling is 75% body and fitness and only 25% talent. In your youth, you can get away with many things, but post 30, sustaining the rigours of international cricket is bloody tough work—yeh labour wala kaam hai...if you are a fast bowler. You need to spend 4-5 hours daily at the nets, and that has to be continued for five days in a week.

Today, if you ask Sachin Tendulkar to bat in international games, he will be fine after just 15 days of net practice, especially on the kind of pitches we are seeing. He may only struggle in running between the wickets and fielding. But if you ask a contemporary of Sachin who is a fast bowler, he can’t make a comeback and bowl after two weeks of practice.

How is the Twenty20 format different from ODIs?

You have a bit of time in ODIs. If your average speed is 135 kmph, you can afford to bowl at around 128 kmph for the first six balls provided all are accurate. In T20, you need to warm up even before your first delivery. The margin of error is very little since the pressure is intense from the first ball itself. Your three great overs can be destroyed by just one bad over in the slog.

Even Dale Steyn spoke about fearing bowling to A.B. de Villiers in the IPL. One can imagine how tough this format is for bowlers…

ABD is ABD of course! He has transformed T20 and ODI cricket. In the last couple of years, he has used his exceptional fitness to make his batting even more effective. The kind of reflexes and the last-minute manoeuvring you see from him is impossible without being superbly fit. Some players are power hitters, say, a Virat Kohli. ABD tries to out-think a bowler most of the time.

With the World T20 coming up, do you think you will get the chance to play another major tournament in India?

Of course. There is not much gap between the Australia matches and the World T20. We will be playing a couple more T20 series and since this format is my strength, I am hopeful of a good show in the coming months.

Who is the best T20 bowler currently?

Lasith Malinga used to be very good until a year or so ago. His action and speed was his advantage. I am impressed with Mitchell Starc of Australia. He has improved tremendously over the past 15 months or so. Then there is James Faulkner, who has a great yorker and slower ones.

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