Career not yet over - Zaheer Khan
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 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