England v India, 1st npower Test, Lord's, 1st day

Zaheer's problem of middle and leg

It is depressing that a bowler as skillful as Zaheer Khan has missed so many games due to injuries. If he misses a large part of the England tour, it will be a loss not just to India but to cricket

Sambit Bal at Lord's

July 22, 2011

Comments: 22 | Text size: A | A

Zaheer Khan is pumped up after getting Andrew Strauss to hole out, England v India, 1st Test, Lord's, 1st day, July 21, 2011
Zaheer Khan lifted himself for the first day of the 2000th Test match © Getty Images

The moment Zaheer Khan stopped dead in his follow-through and bent down to feel his right hamstring, an eloquent pause hung in the media room. It wasn't asked, but everyone understood the question: was this going to turn out to be the defining moment of the match, or of the series, so adroitly built up as the unofficial Test championship decider?

Despite never looking at his sharpest, Zaheer had been the soul of India's bowling attack on an absorbing first day during which neither wickets nor runs came easily. With Praveen Kumar swinging it too much to secure an edge, and Ishant Sharma not finding the length that English conditions warrant, Zaheer had to carry the day, and he did so by working his way through like a chess master. The England openers were drawn in to their dismissals.

It is no secret that Zaheer enjoys bowling to left-hand batsmen and while much of the pre-series talk had focused on his contest with Andrew Strauss, who has been seen as fallible to left-arm swing bowling, it was Alastair Cook he snared first, with one that held its course after several that moved either way. Strauss was then baited by a sucker short ball wide of off stump, which he top-edged to deep-backward square leg.

That these dismissals were replicas from 2007 - Cook at Trent Bridge, Strauss at The Oval - pointed to a design from a seasoned craftsman.

Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen then built a partnership, but Zaheer returned with the aging ball, and wobbled it enough to draw an ugly flail from Pietersen and a genuine edge from Trott, before hobbling off.

Injuries are an inescapable reality that cricketers, and their teams, must live with; and fast bowlers, whose day job comprises the most unnatural contortions of the human body, are particularly susceptible.

The cold weather is unkind too to the hamstring and it comes under further stress when a left-arm quick bowler switches to round the wicket, as Zaheer often does. So, if the worst fears about Zaheer come to pass, it is perhaps down to wretched luck. There is, however, a pattern to Zaheer's mid-match breakdowns that is impossible to ignore.

In 2003, he raised Indian hopes with an inspired spell in Brisbane before sitting out the Adelaide Test and bailing out in the middle of the Melboune Test, leaving India with three frontline bowlers. A couple of months later, during India's tour of Pakistan, he once again limped off the field during the Multan Test that Indian went on to win. He returned home when it became obvious that the muscle that he had pulled wasn't going to heal in time for the final Test. In 2007-08, a heel injury restricted his tour of Australia to only one Test. Last year, he withdrew from the Test tour of Sri Lanka, and missed the opening Test in South Africa.

This leaves only two away series of significance - South Africa in 2006-07, and England in 2007 - that he has been able to complete in recent years. That the career of a bowler who has grown so skillful should be defined by injuries is depressing.

Zaheer knows his body better than anyone else and he has perhaps reconciled himself to the limitations it imposes on him. Some fast bowlers are blighted by chronic injuries. Shane Bond's body never allowed him to make full use of the gift he had been granted: the ability to bowl fast with a clean action. Ian Bishop looked a worthy heir to Michael Holding before a stress fracture of the back terminated his career. And Munaf Patel has embraced the life of a trundler after beginning with thunderbolts.

But even from the height of the media box at Lord's it was impossible not to notice the girth around Zaheer's waist. He hadn't played a Test since January and had had no competitive cricket in six weeks. It was apparent that he was feeling his way back in the practice match against Somerset, but that he chose to rest in the second innings perhaps told a story. That he managed to rouse himself for a contest at Lord's was proof of the mastery he has acquired over his craft. But Michael Holding, who was on air when Zaheer aborted his over, remarked straightaway he wasn't surprised because Zaheer hadn't looked match fit. While India remain optimistic about his chances of bowling in the second innings, the fate of this Test now rests on how well the rest of the bowling attack copes with the absence of their leader in this innings.

Sambit Bal is the editor of ESPNcricinfo

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Posted by demon_bowler on (July 22, 2011, 21:17 GMT)

I bet there were only a few hundred people in a nation of 1 billion following the cricket today -- until India's innings begun, when everyone switched on. In India, bowlers are half caste. No one wants to be a bowler. This is why it produces so few great bowlers. Zaheer should have been born over here, he'd have been a hero.

Posted by   on (July 22, 2011, 18:43 GMT)

Despite all their problems and issues. one thing which Pakistan team keeps on doing regularly is producing good fast bowlers. Despite retirement of Shoaib and ban on Amir and Asif, Pakistan are most of the time able to field tow or three good fast bowlers. Pakistan and India have same climate and India has a much stronger system than Pakistan.Pitches are almost the same. Than why is India not able to produce fast bowlers as regularly as Pakistan?

Posted by blondblackberry on (July 22, 2011, 18:22 GMT)

india does'nt hav fast bowler friendly wickets that's why we lack quality fast bowlers who can bowl over 145kph consistently.also, that's why aussie,southafrica hav express fast bowlers in a bunch as one replace another.india like them need to hav some pitches only for pace bowlers making the batsmen earn their runs. india does'nt hav fast bowler friendly wickets that's why we lack quality fast bowlers who can bowl over 145kph consistently.also, that's why aussie,southafrica hav express fast bowlers in a bunch as one replace another.india like them need to hav some pitches only for pace bowlers making the batsmen earn their runs.

Posted by bhaloniaz on (July 22, 2011, 18:18 GMT)

I agree with Alex, and us_indian, that india has less amount of fast bowlers. Indians and non-indians are wowed by Sachin, but other indian batsmen of the past and present(Gavasker, Amarnath, Vengsarker) are not really far behind Sachin. Records will show that. Indian batsmen are overrated and bowlers underrated. India's fast bowling has improved a lot! While WI made a selection error of not going with Roach and co (fast bowlers), india made a mistake of sticking with erratic Ishant and Sreesanth (they are not as intimidating). India should have picked their decent swing bowlers (like Kumar, Munaf, even Irfan) more regularly. Except for a few like Srinath and Kapil, none of the indian quicks were even getting 3 wickets per test. Now india can field three quicks who can average at least 3 wickets per test. Its an improvement. Indian fans never idolized india's best quick Srinath.

Posted by PTtheAxis on (July 22, 2011, 18:14 GMT)

the only notable thing of this series is that both teams don't have a real wicketkeeper. which only means lots of runs ...

Posted by binojpeter on (July 22, 2011, 18:08 GMT)

As an Indian fan, more than Zaheer's absence, fact that none of the other bowlers except Praveen could step up their game to fill in his absence worries me.

Posted by US_Indian on (July 22, 2011, 17:34 GMT)

@alex400- well said, just a perfect analysis, country of 1.2 billion cant produce 12 fast bowlers, its a shame which should start from the lowest levels to the highest levels, batsmen are worshipped-what a truth. For example see how Sachin is worshipped and how the great Kumble, in my opinion who has been the major contributor towards indian victories ignored and sidelined mentioned once in a while by the media and public while Sachin's every detail is keenly followed, including the sneezes, caughs, even the phats are recorded and keenly followed and commented.. that is a real pity, we are not good motivators, nor neutral fans who deliberately give demi-god status to batsmen, that is the reason why every kid wants to become a batsman. The schools dont have a mandatory P/E classes and fitness regimen for all and specially who are into sports. There have been real genuine fast bowlers but who were ignored repeatedly and so they opted out of the game, in early days and currently too.

Posted by ashy2010 on (July 22, 2011, 16:40 GMT)

Both the teams are an even match...

Cook Vs Gambhir.. Mukhund vs Strauss (strauss one up).. Dravid vs Trott (Dravid more experienced), Sachin vs KP (Sachin more conssistent), Laxman vs Bell (laxman big match player), Morgan vs Raina (even), Dhoni vs Prior (Prior more consistent), Bhajji vs Swann (Swanns recent record better), Broad vs Ishanth (both are rythm bowlers, broad a better bat), Anderson vs Zaheer (both injury prone), Tremlett vs Praveen (Bounce vs Swing)... This one of the most even cricket contests in the last few years...hope they make it interesting and play good cricket unlike the nonsense in the WI series.. Good Luck India to retain the No.1 spot... All the best England to gain the same if they win..

Posted by Mill1 on (July 22, 2011, 16:07 GMT)

It seems as if Duncan Fletcher is again trying to grab more media spotlight doing all these interviews. This was also happening in West Indies. During the whole of Gary Kirsten's tenure, i think i saw less interviews with the coach than in the last month with Fletcher. Not good for India, not what they need as a unit.

Posted by   on (July 22, 2011, 16:00 GMT)

India only has one bowler, Zaheer Khan?????????? This, in a population of 1 billion??????

Posted by Shan156 on (July 22, 2011, 15:51 GMT)

England have won more tests than India in the last few years. I agree that they have come second best to India in their head-to-head contests but still they have won more test matches overall. They are ranked #3 and have won tests in SA and Australia recently. This shows that England's brand of cricket is well suited to modern day test cricket. Some of these fans who appreciate only limited overs cricket can never comprehend test cricket. A poster complains about England's RR and claims that England can never win if they score at such snail's pace. What he has to understand is that conditions are not easy to bat and India's bowlers, ZK in the first 2 hours and Praveen consistently, have bowled very well.

Posted by   on (July 22, 2011, 15:49 GMT)

I think Sambit is mostly right; the only thing I object to is the barbed reference to his girth. I was at the ground yesterday and Zak was fielding at deep square leg close to the Mound stand. He looked in good shape. The secret of his so called "girth" was the chunky under garment/vest he had as it was a chilly breezy day and I am sure that those of you coming here from warmer climes would need time to acclimatize duly to the vagaries of a typical English summer! A professional player like Zak has to and am sure does look after himself off season. If not, then the practice sessions in Bangalore are practically useless. I am more disappointed with Ishant's lackluster display and Bhajji's toothless performance where Swann will surely out bowl him in the next day or two. Also all this talk about who deserves to be #1 etc is so boring. England needs to win first in India (last won in 1984 under Lord Gower??) and win big before harbouring ambitions of #1 overall.

Posted by 360review on (July 22, 2011, 15:23 GMT)

Yes, England team does not want Zaheer, especially the jelly Pietersen or jelly Cook. They know how dangerous he can be (remember the test in 2007?). It is sad to see Zaheer go off the field due to hamstring. He could have avoided this by not playing with Somerset.

Posted by Alexk400 on (July 22, 2011, 15:05 GMT)

Truth is zaheer khan is unfit for rigorous work load. Now a days there is a trend in that bowlers think if they take 2-3 wickets job is done and they want the other bowlers to do the job as well. India really need young fast bowlers who wants to prove like deepak chahar. India winning games by dhoni's brillaint use of bowlers than bowler themself. There is no bowler in india who can take 5 wickets in successive games. if they get 5 wickets it almost become lifetime achievement. In India batsman are promoted like Gods and bowlers are thrown into hell. In india BCCI system do not promote fast bowlers compare to bastman. People say no bowlers impressive in ranji trophy. There is a reason for it. it is not easy to get into ranji team unless u have god father in bcci circles. BCCI need to have scouting system for fast bowlers so scouts can search for best talent all through india. I do not agree that indians do not have physique to be fast bowlers, there are many there...u just have find it

Posted by   on (July 22, 2011, 14:57 GMT)

it is a tragedy that Zaheer is down. But to be not match fit is a sin. Sir Dhoni has his own logic too by not playing Sreesanth who clearly is the best bowler after Zaheer in the Indian outfit. It is only merciful that Praveen has stepped up and made sure Dhonis folly is not so obvious. India will hv to bat very well to save this game since 2 seamers and a spinner r not good enuf.....

Coming to stats, Zaheer is at 31+ runs per wkt. But over the last 4 years that number is considerably lower. Also he alway picks wickets when he comes on. He clearly he is among the top 3 bowlers in the world today. Does make a difference if he is injured. India is a bowler short. Also the attack is young and is affected by the lack of the lead bowler. Look at the results of the Aussies at their peak. See the matches Mcgrath did not play and the impact it had - even on the ashes. Now dont tell me that Australia had just one bowler in the last 15 years....

Posted by BigINDFan on (July 22, 2011, 14:49 GMT)

So much for a test championship decider. Zaheer pulling out is a big blow since apart from Praveen Kumar the others are not match winners. Ishant had a great WI series but English conditions need more discipline. If Zaheer misses the series it will be Sreesanth who will bowl wide either end of the wicket and give KP and co boosted averages and add to their centuries list. Why did Ind not bring Ashish Nehra in place of Munaf Patel knowing that there are 3 left handers in the Eng team? Bottom line BCCI does not really care about Test matches as much as they say they do in the media.

Posted by   on (July 22, 2011, 14:39 GMT)

i m very disappionting to see way rahul dravid field ......total 3 catch miss..... 2 of trott and 1 of peterson .....and they both score good runs....

Posted by   on (July 22, 2011, 13:03 GMT)

England didn't do this to Zaheer. His lack of preparation is the Indian team's fault.

Also, are you really saying that the Indian team only has one decent bowler in it?

Posted by Venkatb on (July 22, 2011, 12:59 GMT)

Zaheer Khan's girth shocked me - since the BCCI has contracted players, its physio and manager should ensure players are match fit at all times - some of our players spend more time in parties, store openings and the like, than in physical conditioning. ZK also seems to have a superiority complex not in synch for someone with a bowling average of over 31, sub-par to be considered a top-notch bowler.

It would be more appropriate to bring him back to India and utilise someone else - with or without ZK, India is going to find it tough to bowl an England side twice in a match.

Posted by   on (July 22, 2011, 12:52 GMT)

england can not win the series,80 overs and 219 runs!!!!how on earth they gonna win like this in modern day test cricket lol?they are 100 runs behind the normal rate,only some suicide batting frm india can lose them the match but if india escapes first test,england will be demolished

Posted by   on (July 22, 2011, 12:23 GMT)

This means Zaheer's fitness is still not very good, he puts his body under a lot of strain just to do well, but he is not alone. Wasim Akram, Shoaib Akthar, Mashrafe Mortaza, Dilhara Fernando, Brett Lee, Shane Watson, Jason Gillespie, Dennis Lillee, Shane Bond, Allan Donald, Bob Willis, Darren Gough, Malcolm Marshal and many other fast bowlers have all suffered similar predicaments. Life as a fast bowler is not easy, Glenn McGrath missed games through injury but he lost a lot of pace but was always very accurate. He takes care of his body by managing his workload wisely and doing a lot of fitness training. The most durable bowler to have played the game is Courtney Walsh, Zaheer is never likely to play 133 tests, nor get to Kapil Dev's record of 131 or 434 wickets. He needs to improve his fitness and manage his workload to be able to become a durable bowler.

Posted by blondblackberry on (July 22, 2011, 11:45 GMT)

come on guys english team and fans don't want zaheer to play because they can't win with a quality champion bowler in the opposition.england players know it and they dream to be no.1 side hahaaaaaa.......

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Sambit Bal Editor-in-chief Sambit Bal took to journalism at the age of 19 after realising that he wasn't fit for anything else, and to cricket journalism 14 years later when it dawned on him that it provided the perfect excuse to watch cricket in the office. Among other things he has bowled legspin, occasionally landing the ball in front of the batsman; laid out the comics page of a newspaper; covered crime, urban development and politics; and edited Gentleman, a monthly features magazine. He joined Wisden in 2001 and edited Wisden Asia Cricket and Cricinfo Magazine. He still spends his spare time watching cricket.
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