Two man-of-the-match awards in three games in a batsman-dominated T20 calls for some stupendous effort. Chennai Super Kings' Ashish Nehra like wine, seems to mature with age. And it's showing in his performances. No wonder captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni has shown so much faith in him.
What else would you attribute to than the confidence Dhoni has in his opening bowlers when he said on Friday that the toss did not matter as he would have chosen to bowl anyway.
Nehra's second three-wicket haul, 3/23, bettering his first man-of-the-match performance against Delhi Daredevils by two runs, was the kind of performance that he repaid his skipper with.
Moving the ball off the deck on a perfect batting surface was the kind that Nehra is made up, and he showed it straightaway against Lendl Simmons and Parthiv Patel, trapping his former India team-mate too. Even as Corey Anderson threatened to destroy Nehra, the latter foxed him with a change of length and forced the New Zealander to err and miscue for Faf du Plessis to pluck off a sensational catch at the inner circle edge.
After bowling three overs for 15 runs and two wickets, Nehra was preserved for the death. He struck again, seeing off the back of a well-settled Rohit Sharma in the 15th over.
Asked what he did differently from the other bowlers, the 35-year-old Nehra said: "It is always important, whether you are bowling first or second, that the first two or three overs are always crucial. Everyone knows 180, especially on pitches like Bangalore and Mumbai, is par score. You always look to bowl tight upfront to pick up wickets. You can't bowl two or three overs without picking up wickets and just giving 8-10 runs. You have to pick up wickets. And to do that, you have to look to swing the ball and bowl in the right areas. That is what I was trying to do."
Fitness has prevented Nehra from playing more than 17 Tests (44 wickets) and 120 ODIs (157 sticks) for the country. He is pleased with the way he is at the moment, and expects to continue the form in the coming games, the immediate next being in Ahmedabad against Rajasthan Royals on Sunday afternoon. It will be a real test for Nehra against Royals, who have a 100 per cent success rate this IPL like the CSK but in one extra game.
"Fitness is the main thing for the fast bowlers. I am in good rhythm, fit and these things are helping me in my bowling," Nehra said.
Having begun his IPL career with Mumbai Indians before turning out for Delhi Daredevils and now Chennai Super Kings, Nehra has only been on the learning curve. "The first year saw many new things. Not many knew about (T20). Every year you are learning new things. Shaun Pollock (with Mumbai Indians in 2008) was of great help. After that DD, now CSK. Every day, you have keep learning. In this format, when you know there is not too much scope and too much time, you have to be always on top of your game," said Nehra.
Speaking of the importance to have the captain's confidence, Nehra explained: "It is important for any bowler or batsman that he has the captain's faith. I have been somebody who bowls 10 overs in three spells (in ODIs) and bowl 2-3 overs upfront and one in the last 4. On Friday, when MS (Dhoni) gave me over No. 15, I was thinking he was giving me too early but he said he wanted a wicket. The way game was going, the last 4-5 overs can see 80-90 runs. You have to look to picking up wickets. I have always tried to pick up wickets and that's what exactly happened. It was not easy for Kieron Pollard to keep hitting from both sides. Everybody knows what kind of player Rohit Sharma is, what he is capable of doing. His was a timely wicket. It is always good for the captain to be on your side. Also, the kind of rhythm I was in, I was also confident."