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Career not yet over - Zaheer Khan

Nagraj Gollapudi

June 30, 2014

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Zaheer Khan celebrates Peter Fulton's wicket, New Zealand v India, 1st Test, Auckland, 1st day, February 6, 2014
Pace is not the only criteria to judge a fast bowler, says Zaheer Khan © Getty Images
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Contrary to the perception that his exclusion from the England tour might have put an end to his international career, Zaheer Khan strongly believes he has some more mileage left in his legs. Zaheer is eyeing the Champions League Twenty20 as the first step to make a comeback and prove he is at the "top of his game."

Zaheer suffered a side strain while playing for Mumbai Indians in the IPL in May and had been working on his recovery at the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore. According to the timeline given to him by the physio, Zaheer said he would be able to bowl ten weeks from the date of injury and he was "four weeks away" from picking the ball up.

In an extensive interview with ESPNcricinfo, Zaheer also countered opinions from the likes of Rahul Dravid, who felt that during the tours of South Africa (last December) and New Zealand (February), Zaheer was seemingly getting tired and his pace was dropping. Zaheer admitted that since he was 35 years old, "there will be more questions asked" of him, but he did not agree that pace was the necessary "criteria" to judge him.

"Ultimately what you show in the wickets column and how you have created an impact on the game is what matters," Zaheer said. "To me it does not matter what pace I'm bowling at. If I am able to create that impact where things are going my way, the conditions are suiting me and I'm able to take three wickets in a seven-over spell that is what I look for."

Zaheer pointed out that he had never been a "out-and-out fast bowler" but has always created an impact through his variations. "Pace has never been the most important criteria for me," he said. "Obviously you cannot be bowling at 125kph, but if I am able to bowl at 135 with variations and control over line and length it is equivalent to bowling as quick as 140kph. I have focused on speed-up variations: if I am bowling at an average speed of 131-133kph suddenly I spike it to 138kph the odd ball it has proved crucial."

Zaheer's career has been riddled with various injuries which even created doubts in his mind about whether it was worth continuing. He was dropped after a poor performance during India's home series against England in 2012-13. Any hopes of a comeback had to be put aside as Zaheer then suffered a hamstring injury which he managed to correct by attending freelance performance enhancement coach Tim Exeter's training centre in France last summer.

After a year out of the Indian team, Zaheer made a tenacious comeback in the Tests in South Africa and New Zealand, proving he still was the leader of the bowling attack. He not only delivered the most number of overs across both series but also bowled crucial match-turning spells, the one in the first innings of the Johannesburg Test being his favourite.

"I have always felt that it is not about the first day you bowl in Test matches but it is the next day when you back up," he said. "I could feel I had gone from one level to the next when I came back the third morning (at Wanderers) and I took three wickets in a spell. It was similar in New Zealand where with the new ball in the second innings of the Wellington Test where I got three wickets in a spell.

"That is what I have been known for: when I get it going I pick up two or three in a spell. And that is what makes you different from others. It is important that you can make that kind of impact."

Zaheer is eight matches away from becoming the second Indian fast bowler (after Kapil Dev), and only the tenth overall, to reach the landmark of 100 Tests. Zaheer was excited at the prospect saying it would be a "great achievement" considering his injury-plagued career.

Another goal Zaheer is realistic about achieving, he pointed out, was to play the World Cup next year. "I am open to it. World Cup is a special tournament and it is everyone's dream to be part of the Indian team. But it is still a long way away. Right now, if you ask me am I fit to bowl? I am not. Things will unfold for me. Champions LeagueTwenty20 is the first step towards proving I am fit and top of my game," Zaheer said.

Full interview to be published on Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by ramli on (July 1, 2014, 12:21 GMT)

What is the use in playing 4 tests and then taking a long off only to return after a long time for another brief spell of 4 more tests? I can understand, ZK will get to play 100 tests, that is all. It is time to invest on younf fast bowlers and stick with them

Posted by Darkmanx12155 on (July 1, 2014, 8:03 GMT)

All you haters out there will worship Ishanth after the 5 tests. Ishanth is the best bet we have right now people. He is bad in sub continent, no doubt. but in helping conditions like Australia, NZ, SA, england, he is lethal with his swing and bounce at high speeds. Buvi is good in india only. Pankaj Singh will do well if he gets picked. Shami is good too.

Go Ishanth, show these haters what u got. Funny how people can forget your match winning performances so soon. I sure hope you bring us glory and show what u can do in helping conditions. All these pundits seems to forget that its ONLY you who picked up 2 wickets in the previous practice game. dhoni knows and does the best for the country. his faith in ishanth will bring him glory this time around. Sorry Zak, with Shami, Mohit, Buvi in the side u dont stand a chance!

Posted by   on (July 1, 2014, 4:44 GMT)

@bellcurve its not a fair comparison coz kallis played 166 test matches but zak has only played 92

Posted by sammysam on (July 1, 2014, 0:05 GMT)

time to hang up the boots Mr Khan.

Posted by   on (June 30, 2014, 23:40 GMT)

zack still has a lot to give to the side... he has been the most consistent pacer for india over quite a few years now... he jus needs to proove his metal in his fitness nd rythm nd i m very sure dat zack cud turn out to be a "GAME CHANGER" again for our side as he has been all these years... he looked good in the recent ipl bowling at a decent pace nd getting an ample amount of swing... once he prooves his fitness m sure as hell he can proove to be the most lethal weapon in our armoury in the upcoming wc... i m desperately waiting for his comeback nd once he is back all the critics will have shut their nd all they cud do wud jus praise him again... its jus the bad phase he is going through... m very sure the champion fast bowler will overcome it very soon!!!

Posted by   on (June 30, 2014, 14:46 GMT)

@BellCurve - Look at the pitches on which Kallis bowled, and compare it to the dead subcontinent pitches on which Zaheer's bowled! Plus, Kallis always had great bowlers in his side which made it easier for him to pick wickets.

Posted by BellCurve on (June 30, 2014, 14:05 GMT)

Zaheer should have called it a day a few years ago. His average will just continue to deteriorate. Currently he has 311 @ 32.94. That is considerably worse than Kallis, who has 292 @ 32.64.

Posted by subcontinent-expert on (June 30, 2014, 13:54 GMT)

Though Zak is the best but we cannot risk to play him in a test match... He should be preserved for the WC 2015 n I m sure he will be a great assest for the team even if he doesnot play every match there..... So for me a big NO to Zak for Tests but YES for ODIs...

Posted by   on (June 30, 2014, 13:35 GMT)

Fit Zaheer Khan is far more better than any other Indian bowler. If he can prove his fitness and get into rhythm, he will be still a match winner. He was outstanding during last World Cup. Every time India needed wicket or a partnership has to be broken, Dhoni has Zak. He did it 9 out of 10 times. I still feel Zak would be India's best frontline bowler of all time. Fitness has been issue. He should look to CLT20 and domestic games to be match fit. Best wishes Fan from Nepal

Posted by Mr_Anonymous on (June 30, 2014, 13:30 GMT)

I think that he has some good contributions left in him. If he can be fit, his presence in the World Cup side would be welcome and the physical demands of the shorter format may suit him better. With his swing, guile and experience, he could pick up early wickets that would help the team.

Getting to 100 Tests is another exciting goal although that is still 8 more Tests. If he can be fit for the Australia Test series that would be good although that is still too close to the World Cup, timing wise, and so it might just be prudent to focus on one or the other (Tests or the ODIs and subsequent WC).

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