It was fitting that Zaheer Khan got his 300th Test wicket under the African sun, when he dismissed Jacques Kallis in the first Test at the Wanderers Stadium here on Sunday.
The ball may have grazed the inside-edge before hitting Kallis’s pads, but that doesn’t belittle Zaheer’s enormous contribution to Indian cricket.
In a career spanning innumerable tours, plentiful wickets and countless desolate nights of coping with injury-induced self-doubt, Zaheer is back again in the African continent, refreshed, rejuvenated and ready to rattle batsmen with his potent mix of swing and pace.
It has been a comeback to cherish and one that augurs well for M.S. Dhoni’s men.
The wheel has turned full circle for Zaheer, whose debut performances during the ICC Knockout tournament in 2000, is still fondly remembered by most Indians.
In the tournament quarterfinal against Australia at the Gymkhana Club Ground in Nairobi, the left-arm pacer had nailed both Adam Gilchrist and Steve Waugh, the latter castled.
That performance catapulted Zaheer onto the bigger leagues while also offering fresh hope to Indian cricket, tainted as it was after the match-fixing controversy.
That series also brought to the fore another young and energetic talent — Yuvraj Singh — who had blasted an 84 in that match.
Well and truly back
After last playing for India in the Test against England at Kolkata’s Eden Gardens in December 2012, Zaheer braved the demons — a dip in form and injuries.
The inter-twined flaws were ironed out over the past year. Time was well-spent in France and South Africa, as sweat and kilos were shed in equal measure, while skill-sets were enhanced.
A toned Zaheer was back at his best, with that extra spring in his step, pace cranked up to his earlier standards — he clocked 137 kmph against South Africa in the current Test — and, notably, he was back to tormenting Graeme Smith all over again.
Already 35, Zaheer might struggle to overhaul Kapil Dev’s record of 434 wickets. But what he has achieved — despite emerging from a land which, as the clichéd notions go, is known more for wristy batsmen and cunning spinners — is considerable and definitely worth emulating.
A year back, Dhoni had called him the ‘Sachin Tendulkar among Indian bowlers.’ No one will grudge Zaheer that tag while Ishant Sharma, Mohammad Shami and the others of their ilk are happy enough to be mentored by the veteran.
‘Zak’ is indeed back!