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Zaheer's journey from 2003 to 2011

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Time proves healer for Mahela Jayawardene too

LION-HEARTED PERFORMANCE: Zaheer Khan lived up to his billing as India's lead bowler with a tight opening spell. — Photo: AFP
LION-HEARTED PERFORMANCE: Zaheer Khan lived up to his billing as India's lead bowler with a tight opening spell. — Photo: AFP

Eight years ago he faltered at the biggest stage in cricket, the World Cup summit clash against Australia in Johannesburg, but on Saturday Indian pace spearhead Zaheer Khan truly exorcised that disastrous spell of bowling with a splendid opening burst against Sri Lanka.

The contrast could not have been starker; the opening over from Indian pace spearhead Zaheer Khan in the 2003 title contest against Australia and Saturday's first-ever all-Asian World Cup summit clash at the Wankhede Stadium here.

Eight years ago in the Bull Ring of the Wanderers' Stadium in South Africa, the nervous Zaheer's first over cost India 15 runs and Australia never looked back from that flying start provided by the left-arm paceman.

Brilliant century

Meanwhile, a World Cup final many India fans hoped would witness Sachin Tendulkar score his hundredth international hundred saw Sri Lanka's Mahela Jayawardene beat him to the punch with a brilliant century.

Jayawardene top-scored with 103 not out in Sri Lanka's total of 274 for six at the Wankhede Stadium on Saturday.

It was a far cry from the World Cup final of four years ago where Jayawardene was dismissed for just 19 as Australia triumphed in Barbados.

Zaheer's first over in 2003 included a spate of no-balls and wides against the great Australian pair of Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden.

India's rivals rode on that disastrous over and captain Ricky Ponting's pulverising 121-ball knock of 140 to make an imposing 359 for two. Zaheer ended up with none for 67 in only seven overs.

India went on to lose that contest, only its second entry into the tournament's grand finale till then, by 125 runs.

Sharp contrast

This was in sharp contrast to Saturday's splendid beginning by the left-arm pace spearhead, who went into the match with 19 wickets under his belt.

He not only bowled three maiden overs, but also picked up the wicket of left-handed Lanka opener Upul Tharanga before conceding his first run of the match. His first spell read a superb 5-3-6-1 and he conceded his first run off the 20th ball he delivered.

Tharanga and Tillakaratne Dilshan have forged a very successful opening partnership for Lanka in this tournament, including two double century stands — 282 against Zimbabwe in the league stage on March 10 at Pallakalle and 231 unfinished against England in the quarterfinals at Colombo on March 26.

Zaheer also had Chamara Kapugedera caught at cover off a deceptive slower ball to take his 21st wicket of this World Cup and so equal the tournament-best mark set by Pakistan captain and leg-spinner Shahid Afridi.

Zaheer was plagued by injuries and even lost his place in the Indian squad after the 2003 final before storming his way back into it after a stint with Worcestershire in the English county circuit.

Since then the 32-year-old bowler, who has grabbed an identical 271 wickets in both Tests and ODIs, has been absolutely superb with the ball and the leader of the fast bowling pack.

Meanwhile, the 33-year-old Jayawardene reached his century in superb style with two successive boundaries off Zaheer Khan.

First he cut the left-arm quick behind high behind square on the offside before next ball striking a brilliant boundary over mid-off to go to the landmark off 84 balls with 13 fours.

Jayawardene, who came in at 60 for two, has long had the enviable ability to make runs quickly without seeming to make a great effort.

He is also capable of great feats of batting concentration as he showed while making 374 against South Africa at Colombo in 2006 where he shared a Test record stand for any wicket of 624 with current skipper Kumar Sangakkara.

Even the 32-year-old Zaheer, a boyhood fan of the legendary Pakistan left-arm quick Wasim Akram, was unable to contain Jayawardene in the closing stages. — PTI, AFP

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