Dharamsala lets you settle in. Its narrow single-lane roads leading to the stadium, packed with patiently waiting cars lined up tidily behind one another, are testament to that fact. No one is in a hurry. Not even the players. Rajasthan Royals opener Yashasvi Jaiswal, in a meditative trance, sweats it out for more than an hour in a net session on the eve of an IPL 2023 match against the Punjab Kings. His opening partner, Jos Buttler, opts for an intense game of football with his teammates, whom he knocks down with nonchalant vehemence, much like he treats bowlers across the 22 yards. Jaiswal is reprising the pull and the cut shot with metronomic consistency, the mighty Dhauladhar range watching over as a sentinel, while Buttler, tackling Yuzvendra Chahal, tumbles over the lush green chequered grass of the HPCA Stadium, reminiscent of the Lord’s turf. The hillside city is momentarily shaken up when popular Punjabi music blares across the ground, but soon the stifled silence of the faceless people who keep the monolith of the IPL ticking takes over. From ground staff to caterers, you can hear their muffled echoes through the dingy corridors lined with crates of Campa Cola, a relic of India’s pre-economic liberalisation era.
The IPL caravan, which returned after 10 years to the city, has come and gone. Reality settles in as a taxi driver garbles in post-midnight contemplation, “Once the speed of life catches up, you can’t follow cricket.”
Evergreen Ashu bhai
On a hot Sunday evening in Ahmedabad, defending champion Gujarat Titans is undergoing a training session at the Narendra Modi Stadium ahead of its last home fixture. The team played an away game in Mumbai two days ago, so this is an optional session. Some senior players have decided to skip the nets.
As the training session gets underway, Ashish Nehra frantically shuttles between nets. There is a spring in his step.
Lifting the spirits: Several senior players who have been part of the Titans dressing room over the last two seasons indicate that Nehra has made the dressing room lively.
| Photo Credit: PTI
One minute, he is chatting with Rashid Khan, and the next, the former India fast bowler is correcting Yash Dayal’s run-up. Nehra is 44 but looks at least 10 years younger, thanks to his fitness and agility. Maybe that’s why most players fondly call him ‘Evergreen Ashu bhai.’
Nehra’s impact on the Titans has been immense. Ever since taking charge as the head coach in 2022, he has guided the team to a title victory and given the players much-needed freedom. “Ashish bhai kept it very simple for us as a team. He made us realise that we should do what we needed to do. Everyone is a professional, and they know what’s to be done. Everyone has played enough cricket; they know what suits them,” says Rashid.
“He (Nehra) has told us that ‘If you need one hour of practice, you do it. If you want to train for two or three hours, go for it. There’s no restriction.’ It’s not like you can only bat for 20 or 30 minutes, and someone wants to bat more. It is left to the players to decide how long they need to be in the nets. That helps.”
Nehra has put the players’ interests first, and this clear-cut communication has allowed the players to go out there with an open mind.
Several senior players who have been part of the Titans dressing room over the last two seasons indicate that Nehra has made the dressing room lively. You find him sharing lighter moments with players in the nets. That’s Nehra for you.