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NEW DELHI: In uncharacteristic fashion, the often-controversy-ridden Ferozeshah Kotla has turned into a stage for celebrating its own cricketers.
A day before the first T20 International against New Zealand, it was Virender Sehwag who held centrestage, unveiling a gate named after him. On Tuesday, it will be the turn of veteran left-arm pacer Ashish Nehra, also from Delhi, to bid his India career goodbye.
The plans to felicitate Nehra are all in place. Invitations have been sent out and a corporate box has been allotted to his family and friends. Nehra will remain the focus in the first game. The fact that India are yet to beat New Zealand in a T20 International has taken a backseat, for now.
However, the air around India’s practice session betrayed a sense of occasion, for farewell matches are a rarity in Indian cricket. Nehra, at the age of 38, has managed to become the second man after Sachin Tendulkar to be given the privilege to pick a day at his home ground to say goodbye. It is an honour not granted to even Zaheer Khan or Sehwag, who in his felicitation address said in typical fashion, “Ashish ke bare mein kal baat karenge (We’ll talk about Ashish tomorrow). Aaj mera din hain (Today is my day).”
Nehra chose to skip the optional practice session for Team India, just like some other big stars. The six players in the nets – KL Rahul, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammad Siraj, Shreyas Iyer, Dinesh Karthik and Manish Pandey – were going through the paces with due intensity. Kuldeep was seen dipping the ball in a bucket of water to get used to bowling in the dew. Kuldeep has been benched after failing to curb the Kiwis while defending 280 in the first ODI. Nehra’s career has been dominated by uncertainties and Tuesday afternoon wasn’t any different.
Just before they were about to wrap up and the murmurs about whether Nehra would get selected could begin, the pacer walked out in his sneakers, laces untied, and ambled to the nets. He pulled up a chair, had a brief chat with chief coach Ravi Shastri and bowling coach Bharat Arun, and left. That was all the time he spent with his team ahead of his final day in blues. A little black backpack hung smartly over his right shoulder, Nehra strode out of the practice area looking cheery, and gave a thumbs-up. “He (Nehra) has done his bowling in the last two days leading up to this day. He had a good massage in the dressing room. He is somebody who doesn’t like to take lot of stress,” a source said. Nehra left for home and not the hotel after training.