For long a lynchpin of the Indian bowling attack, left-arm seamer Zaheer Khan has once again been considered by the selectors for the two-Test series in South Africa.
His return to the National team, at the ripe age of 35 and after almost a gap of one year, was anticipated. More so after he proved his fitness and wicket-taking skills for India ‘A’ against the West Indies ‘A’ and in the three Ranji Trophy matches he has played as captain for Mumbai this season, against Haryana, Punjab and Delhi.
With 191 of his 295 wickets in 88 Tests coming on foreign soil, Zaheer featured prominently in India’s two victories against South Africa at Johannesburg (by 123 runs at The Wanderers in 2006) and Durban (by 87 runs at Kingsmead in 2010).
He took two for 32 and three for 79 in 2006 and three for 36 and three for 57 in 2010; on both occasions his chief partner was S. Sreesanth who took eight wickets in 2006 and four in 2010.
Clearly, the selectors and skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni have pinned their hopes on the seasoned campaigner to lead the pace pack that has the experienced Ishant Sharma and rookies in Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammad Shami.
This will be Zaheer’s fourth tour of the ‘rainbow nation’, and he would not want a repeat of his first tour: he landed just in time for the Bloemfontein Test in November 2001 and was hammered by the South African top-order. He looked the part, though, in the subsequent tours.
Damp practice wickets at the Wankhede Stadium prevented a full net session for the Mumbai Ranji team on Tuesday, and Zaheer kept himself busy by stretching out.
Talking to reporters later Zaheer said, “I am looking forward to joining the Indian team. Obviously, I will be playing the Ranji game (against Vidarbha); it will be good to get some overs under the belt to give that final touch. I have some good memories of South Africa. My last comeback was there.’’
The long road to recovery before the recall: I was expecting this (rehab process) to happen. Last year, I was wondering how to go about it. The first question was whether I wanted to stage a comeback.
Once the answer was yes, I chalked out a strategy. I did everything possible to make sure that I was there. Obviously, the physical aspect was the big thing. I had to tackle that in consultations with a lot of trainers and physios. So far it has worked. The mental aspect was not an issue at all. It was important that I kept believing in myself, my abilities, and doing the work. That’s what I have always been doing in my career.
The feeling of being comfortable, on the fitness front as well as in bowling: It’s been a slow progress right from the match against West Indies ‘A’ at Shimoga in October. When I went there, I knew I needed some overs under my belt and progressed gradually.
I did not want anything to happen suddenly and I was progressing slowly, but surely. I have always believed that match practice is the best.
Things started picking up slowly. It was the spell I bowled towards the end at Shimoga that gave me a lot of confidence, and from there I just picked up.
The spells against Haryana (four for 62 in the second innings) and Delhi (five for 88 in the first innings): It was about trying out different things and getting into the ‘zone’ in those matches. Once I had the overs behind me, I was feeling comfortable on the field.
I was spot-on during the spells and able to recover between spells. In Tests, it’s not only important to bowl well on the first day, but also come back and start bowling from ball one (on other days).
The training programme followed: I have plans for starting something like what I did abroad (France). I could afford to go abroad and benefit from what I did.
You need a set-up like that in India for fitness and physiotherapy. So, instead of giving a low-down on what I did abroad, I will give the real thing in India. I have just put in the work and ironed out things that I felt were pulling me back. I am ready to face the challenge, and it’s going to be great.
Working with Adrian le Roux at Bloemfontein: Adrian is someone I have worked with when he was with the Indian team. We had the rapport and I knew his credibility.
We had planned everything during the IPL: that I will do the strengthening and conditioning phase straightaway and join him for the cricketing skills at Bloemfontein.
New crop of seamers: They look very promising. As one can see, Shami produced a brilliant burst against the West Indies.
It was a dream spell and a dream debut for him, considering the sub-continent conditions where it’s hard to get wickets. He bowled well not only with the new ball, but the old one as well.
Encouraging young bowlers: That comes naturally to me; if I want to help someone, I don’t hesitate to go up to him. Being a bowler (seamer) in the sub-continent is never an easy task.
You have to keep encouraging them and give them the confidence. It’s about backing yourself and this thought-process is very important.