In the last 20 years Zaheer Khan has been, without a shadow of doubt, the best paceman to have emerged from India. When he started out in 2000 he was a fiery left armer with a lot of pace – during the 2003 World Cup he bowled at average speeds of 140 kmph – and from 2005 onwards has been one of the best purveyors of seam and swing, which coupled with his intelligent use of pace has led him to be regarded as perhaps the best left arm fast bowler in the international game. However, Zaheer has been out of the Indian team of late owing to injury and seen younger fast bowlers come and assume his mantle.
Very recently he had been to France with close friend and colleague Yuvraj Singh for high altitude and by Yuvi’s admission he has lost 6 kilos with his hard work and dedication. In a recent interview the fast bowler has stated that fitness has been one area that has pegged him back of late. However, he also stressed on the importance of becoming fitter than before and is hopeful that it will help him get back to the national team. He has also told the media that the ensuing Ranji Trophy season would be his big test and he would like to use it as a way to get back to the national team once more.
Zaheer played his last test during December 2012 against England in a series that India lost and his last one day match came a couple of months prior to that. After he was dropped he returned to play a couple of matches for Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy but was unable to participate in the knockout stages or the Irani Cup owing to a calf ailment. He remained out of actions for at least 4 months and returned to competitive cricket only in the final part of the 2013 IPL.
When he was out injured during the Australia series several promising youngsters like Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Shami Ahmed came and took his place and have also performed well, which could prove to be bad for the 35 year seamer on a comeback trail. Zaheer has said that this is a positive trend for the national team that there is competition for places in the national team – he reasons that if the seniors too perform well in tandem with the newcomers India would become a champion side yet again.
Zaheer has been the lynchpin of the bowling attack for several years now and will be really needed in the South Africa. His presence and good form in South Africa would present a nice quandary for Dhoni – whom to choose from the quartet of Zaheer, Bhuvneshwar, Ishant and Umesh.
I have an inkling that the last man could be left out but it cannot be denied that with the 4 of them on the prowl and the likes of Mohammed Shami waiting in the wings South Africa would be brave enough to create sporting pitches. Coming back to Zaheer, personally I think that he should have played some county cricket or even some league cricket in England. That would have helped his preparation even more. However, he has chosen not to go down that route and it remains to be seen whether this decision proves to be a wise one or not.