Ashish Nehra walked out of international cricket in front of an adoring home crowd and with a comfortable win to India's name, but he didn't leave without a stinging riposte to the comments made by MSK Prasad, chairman of the selection committee, that Nehra was anyway not going to be considered for selection beyond the New Zealand T20Is. Prasad's comments suggested Nehra jumped before he was pushed, but Nehra denied there was any such information conveyed to him.
"I heard this," Nehra said. "I don't know. The chairman of selection committee has not spoken to me about this. You have asked me this question, and I can only tell you about my interaction with the team management. When I reached Ranchi, I told Virat about my plan, and his first reaction was, 'Are you sure? You can still play IPL. You can play as coach-cum-player.' I said no. I am retiring completely."
Nehra also emphasised that he didn't ask for a farewell game. "I have been saying this again and again," Nehra said. "Luckily this game happened to be in Delhi. I have not asked for a farewell game or anything. This is perhaps one way that god has rewarded me for all the hard work I have put in over the last eight-nine years. I hope Virat and coach Ravi Shastri are part of team management because those are the people I spoke to. I have not spoken to any selector over this issue.
"When I started playing cricket, I didn't take any selector's permission. When I am leaving, I am not leaving with their permission."
Prasad had recently praised Nehra for taking in the right spirit the fact that the selectors were looking at him only for the New Zealand series. "I will make it very clear and candid to you," Prasad said. "We all know that right from the word go that communication has been our strong point. We have clearly communicated to the player, ie. Ashish Nehra, and to the team management that we are only looking at him till the New Zealand series. If you see the pattern with which we have selected India A players, the same bowlers we have been continuing with for the past one-and-a-half years in all the A tours. That means they are very much in line. They have really done well in South Africa, also at home against New Zealand.
"This message has been very clearly communicated, we are very happy that… you know the player also needs to take it in the right spirit that the new generation is coming up. Instead of waiting till the end of the New Zealand series, he felt that Delhi game itself he [would] quit so that the others can move on."
The fact that Nehra didn't feature in the first XI in the T20I series against Australia might add weight to what Prasad said but Nehra said he had volunteered to sit out. "Lot of people have been saying that Ashish Nehra didn't play in the XI against Australia," Nehra countered. "When I went there, I went with my plan. I felt that Bhuvneshwar Kumar was ready. If you had seen earlier, [Jasprit] Bumrah and I have been playing. Two spinners play, and the third fast bowler is Hardik Pandya. So Bhuvi misses out. He, too, had been a little up and down until this year's IPL. After the IPL, I personally felt that this is the way forward, that as a bowler I will not like to keep playing at the expense of Bhuvi.
"If there is a big event down the line in five-six months, like the World Cup, or if I have a plan to play for the next two years, then I have earned this spot. If somebody plays better than me, he can take it. It is not as if I was getting any favours by being selected. You can check my record over the last two years. If you are fond of stats. When I was doing well, I said this to Virat and Ravi Shastri. I said it is not that I don't want to play in the XI. If you need three fast bowlers, I am here. Or if Virat says, 'No, I want you.' I was available. It rained in Hyderabad otherwise I was going to play that game. This is my decision for the betterment of the team."
Prasad had even said that there were no guarantees Nehra was going to be selected in the XI for what had been built up as his farewell match. "Even today people were wondering if Ashish Nehra will play or not, but if I was in the XV today, I was obviously going to play," Nehra said. "I didn't come to just look around."
This is not the first disagreement with selectors that Nehra has had, but one of the more high-profile ones might have been his absence from the limited-overs sides post the 2011 World Cup. Leading into the tournament, Nehra was MS Dhoni's go-to man: he used to bowl in the first Powerplay, then in the batting Powerplay, and then at the death. Nehra's experience played a big role in India's World Cup win, but he injured his finger in the semi-final, which proved to be his last ODI, while his next T20I came almost five years later when again his experience was called upon for the home World Twenty20.
"I don't know about myself but I am sure people outside would have thought if Ashish Nehra has retired or if he will ever play again," Nehra said of that period. "My attitude was never say never. You should just keep pushing yourself and be ready when your turn comes. I was out for four years but I didn't go and ask anybody why I was out. I did whatever was in my control: if you see the period of 2009, 2010 and 2011, I was the highest wicket-taker in one-dayers and T20. Not just in India but in the world I was in the top three. Then I got injured in the 2011 World Cup semi-final, and after that I didn't play for three-four years.
"That is, again, up to the team management and the selectors. They were trying whatever they were trying. I knew just one thing: wake up in the morning, go train, play. There were times, even at Sonnet Club, with my coach Mr Tarak Sinha, that in peak summer nobody would be there - maybe 20 kids - but I would be bowling at a single wicket. Because I loved cricket.
"I believe if you give the game time, you will get results sooner or later. Whatever you do in the other 20 hours in the day, if you train and play for three-four hours everyday… maybe I realised this too late and had suffered many injuries by then, but better late than never. After 2008, I did the best I could. I have no regret about those years. You regret whatever is your mistake. I was playing. I was not playing for India, but I was playing IPL and one-dayers and T20 for Delhi. That way there is no regret. It is not how you start, it is how you finish. I don't think it can get better than this."