'Ishant should step up and lead attack' - Zaheer
Zaheer Khan wants Ishant Sharma to take over from him as the leader of India's fast-bowling group. Ishant, according to Zaheer, has enough experience to be able to guide his fast-bowling colleagues during India's five-Test series in England. Of the six frontline seam bowlers in India's squad, Ishant is the only one who has toured England before. Zaheer, who has been part of three England Test tours, missed out on selection with a side strain.
"It is Ishant who has played the most number of matches and he has been around for a while," Zaheer told ESPNcricinfo. "It is time he steps into that role. For Bhuvi [Bhuvneshwar Kumar] and [Mohammed] Shami, it is their first (England) tour so they will look to Ishant and [bowling coach] Joe Dawes for inputs to perform in those conditions."
Despite having played 55 Test matches, Ishant hasn't really shown signs that he could be looked at as the bowling captain. He has only played four Tests in England, during India's 2011 tour, during which he took 11 wickets. Incidentally, it was Praveen Kumar who led the attack - after an injured Zaheer limped out of the tour after just 13 overs in the first Test - and finished the series as India's best bowler, with 13 wickets in three Tests.
Ishant was India's best bowler in the two-Test series in New Zealand earlier this year, with 15 wickets at an average of 25.13, and bowled diligently during the South Africa tour before that. Zaheer, though, was present on both tours to mentor Ishant and Shami.
Zaheer was impressed with Shami, who he said possessed "very good pace" and complemented the rest of India's seam attack very well. "I was also impressed by someone like Mohammed Shami, who was able to perform the pace bowler's role very nicely," Zaheer said. "For a successful bowling unit you require a good fast bowler with very good pace and Shami has that. And that helped me cope with my workload. You do need a balanced bowling attack. You can't have bowlers with similar styles. It was a perfect combination we had, I felt. Ishant, being a very tall guy, adds that extra bounce on helpful pitches. If conditions are suitable for swing, I come in and also bring the experience."
Shami was once again the pick of the bowlers in the Indians' first warm-up match, a three-day game against Leicestershire that finished in a draw. Although Shami remained wicketless, he hurried the batsmen with his speed and movement and was able to make use of the overcast conditions much better than his senior partner Ishant. Ishant started with a no-ball - he finished with an embarrassing count of seven in just nine overs - and was constantly riled by Indian fans from the sidelines. Zaheer pointed out that a long series always provide the potential to settle in, and it would help India's fast bowlers to play as many matches as possible. "If you hit a good rhythm a series like this is the best thing that can happen to a bowler," he said. "Play as much as possible. It is important to get the confidence of bowling in those conditions and the two practice matches are crucial for the bowling unit to get used to the conditions and hit the ball in the right areas."
Zaheer said he would dearly miss being part of the Test series, having been part of three England tours in the past and played a key role in winning the 2007 series with 18 wickets. During the New Zealand tour, Zaheer said, the team management had told him to stay prepared for the England tour and manage his workload accordingly. He suffered a side strain during the IPL, however, and is still four weeks from being able to bowl again.
"That was the whole plan (playing in England)," Zaheer said. "I have been working towards this tour for the last year. I was focusing on Test matches. Even through the IPL my routines were working towards the England tour. Considering all that it was disappointing to miss out. I just hope that Indian team does well on English soil."
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo