Ashish Nehra has been the proverbial Phoenix rising from the ashes everytime the Doubting Thomases write his cricketing epitaph. Just ask Virender Sehwag, who gets giddy every time his friend “Nehra Ji” does well for India.

And the ever-smiling pacer, who will be 38 next month, is far from finished and enjoying his cricket as he outwits opposition batsmen with pace and guile.

“At my age , I am still a fast bowler. I was never the conventional 125-128 kmph bowler. Even today with the new ball, I set myself a target of bowling 138 kmph and I have to do that. Speed is not everything but if need be I can crank it upto 140 plus in T20s also,” Nehra told PTI in an interview.

Does it put pressure on him that even current skipper Virat Kohli wants him in team as much as a Sourav Ganguly or MS Dhoni did during his hey days?

“If anyone says that he doesn’t feel pressure at international level is lying. But at this stage of my career more than pressure, I feel a sense of responsibility as a senior cricketer — to help young bowlers with inputs. Me and MS are two guys from different age groups. Our job is to bring a sense of calmness, our experience in this team.”

What if India wants him during the 2019 50-over World Cup? He breaks into laughter at the very suggestion.

“2019 is too far away and I can’t play that far at my age even though I never planned when I was young. Even MS Dhoni who is two years younger to me may not be thinking that far ahead. Right now, I am preparing for IPL since Delhi hasn’t qualified for Hazare Trophy. Then there’s the Champions Trophy.”

Asked how much white ball cricket has evolved since the time he made his debut more than 15 years ago, Nehra’s response is straight and to the point.

“Obviously, with rule changes, the game has evolved but basics of fast bowling remain the same. You can bowl as many yorkers or slower deliveries. But you have to bowl an outswinger, inswinger and one straight delivery.”

In India, normally a tearaway quick faces problems with variations and ones who have variation are medium pacers to say the least. It’s a complex phenomenon and Nehra tells why.

“In India if you are 140kmph plus bowler, people are happy that the bloke is quick. If he doesn’t get wickets, then people would cite lack of variation being his problem. For a swing bowler inside 130 kmph, his lack of wickets will be attributed to lack of pace. But in international cricket, pace alone can’t win you matches,” said Nehra, who has 157 wickets from 120 ODIs.

Nehra also busted the myth that one can consistently bowl at 150 kmph. Not even Shoaib Akhtar or Brett Lee has done it consistently.

“Look, I am not a great fan of speedometer where even slower ones are shown to be 140 kmph. As far as 150 kmph is concerned, I don’t think there’s anyone who can bowl that fast consistently. May be 2-3 balls in an entire spell.”
“Because it’s not humanly possible to bowl at that speed for long. And then at 150 kmph, the ball stops swinging which will make the bowler ineffective. Rather if one can hit the right length at 140kmph and get it to swing, he would have done a far better job,” said Nehra.

But fast bowling is a back breaking job and the body needs to be looked after well.

“Obviously, bowling fast takes a lot of load on my body. So I have to manage my body, work on my routines for 4-5 hours daily. It’s not easy but that’s how it’s supposed to be. The endeavour is to play as long as possible. I do strides, short sprints. Suppose you bowl 7 overs in nets, it means you have had 42 strides.”

There’s a difference between cricket fitness and gym fitness and the senior player cites Dhoni’s example.

“MS Dhoni’s cricket fitness is amazing. I am not saying go to the gym but there must be a plan. For me, 45 minutes of bowling, same time for fielding and 35 minutes of batting during one session is equivalent gym work and it’s cricket fitness. Gym work is to top up your cricket training.”

Nehra’s next assignment will be the Indian Premier League for Sunrisers Hyderabad. Ask him about rigours of playing a minimum 14 matches over six weeks, Nehra replies, “In IPL, you cannot preserve yourself and try to bowl fast. I cannot plan about IPL keeping Champions Trophy in mind.

“It all depends on how my body is responding. If I am fit, I might play all 14 and it might also be I can get injured before start. But I cannot think of giving 70 percent in IPL. That’s not what a professional does,” he said.

He has had a series of injuries and asked if that could be a problem considering the Indian team needs him in England during Champions Trophy, Nehra said: 

“It’s just that in India, it’s very easy to create perception about a player without knowing if he is injured or unfit. Poor Mohammed Shami, who has last played ODI in 2015 has had knee surgery and then hamstring. In my case, I have had too many freak injuries. But at my age, I don’t care about perceptions.”
“If team management wants me and I am fit, I would like to play the Champions Trophy. I am preparing for it and that’s why I played two Vijay Hazare Trophy matches after 16 months. It felt good.”

Nehra is a content man, still very much in love with the game and doesn’t have any regrets save one — he should have accepted former coach Gary Kirsten’s offer of playing Test cricket back in 2009 when he was 30 years old.

“When I look back, perhaps that’s one regret I have. In 2013 when I played 6 Ranji Games in 6 weeks, I realised that I should have accepted that offer from Gary to play Test matches. From 30-34, I could have easily played four years of Test cricket and may have played another 30-35 matches. But then that’s life,” he concluded.