Zaheer Khan is reckoned by most teams as one of the experts with the shining as well as the old ball. He has cultivated the happy knack of breaking a partnership making the reverse swing work; one of the reasons why the Indian team management must be hoping that the extremely dexterous left- arm seamer regains fitness for the exacting demands of Test cricket.
Moreover he’s the most experienced Indian bowler; Ishant Sharma has not exactly returned to the big league after an ankle surgery and Umesh Yadav is yet to take the big stride in international cricket.
The two spinners, Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha, have been successful in recent times against the West Indies and New Zealand, but like Yadav they have not sent down a ball to English batsmen in Test cricket.
The first Test against England starts on Thursday and after a three-day camp at the Brabourne Stadium here, where he went about a prescribed training meticulously and made his lower and upper limbs work to some degree of satisfaction.
Things would become clearer after he goes through the rigours at Motera.
He is 34 years old, has played 85 Tests (291 wickets) and 200 One-Day Internationals (282 wickets) over a period of 12 years. In the course of these heavy exertions he has strained his body parts and, hence, cannot be fit as a fiddle.
There is so much risk in his selection in the XI especially after he broke down after bowling 13.3 overs in the first Test at Lord’s in the English summer of 2011.
It was a major setback India did not recover from, because the clever Zaheer had caused the downfall of Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook for 22 and 12 runs respectively.
India lost the series 0-4. Even Mahendra Singh Dhoni sent down eight overs in the first innings once Zaheer left the field.
Zaheer returned for the four-Test series against Australia and showed his versatile craft taking four for 77 and three for 53 at Melbourne, three for 122 at Sydney, two for 92 at Perth and two for 96 and one for 38 at Adelaide for a collection of 15 wickets at 31.80.
He was less successful against New Zealand at home recently.
Get-fit visits to the National Cricket Academy (NCA) have been frequent in the last few years; he sent down 20.5 overs in the Ranji Trophy match against Railways at the Wankhede, conceded 41 runs and picked up a wicket before leaving the ground for medical attention.
“He is just cramping a bit. He has had a long day and was probably dehydrated.
“He has worked hard enough. In the last month he trained well,” said Mumbai captain Ajit Agarkar.
The selectors picked him in the 15-member squad after receiving the okay from physical trainer Ashish Kaushik.
Zaheer would have got 11 days to work on his fitness and will possibly undergo a fitness test on Wednesday evening or Thursday morning.
The heat will be telling at Ahmedabad, ranging from 33 degrees Celsius to 38, and India will take an important call.
He is India’s fourth leading bowler after Anil Kumble (619 wickets), Kapil Dev (434) and Harbhajan Singh (406).
He has played two home Tests against England — at Chennai and Mohali in the 2008-09 series — and got the wickets of Ian Bell, Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood, Graeme Swann and Steve Harmison in the first Test and Strauss, Cook, and Swann in the second; most of them top flight batsmen and just the reason Dhoni would hope to get the all clear signal before he writes the team sheet before the toss.
So vital is Zaheer Khan to India’s bowling attack.