India v Australia, 1st Test, Mohali, 2nd day October 2, 2010

Smart Zaheer proves his worth again

ESPNcricinfo staff
Once the prodigal son frittering away his talent, he has been a man on a mission ever since he returned to the side in South Africa four years ago

India is no country for pace bowlers. That might explain the Anton Chigurh intensity that Zaheer Khan brings with him to the middle. Once the prodigal son frittering away his talent, he has been a man on a mission ever since he returned to the side in South Africa four years ago. When Tim Paine was brilliantly caught by VVS Laxman low to his left at second slip, it gave him a 10th five-wicket haul, only the third Indian pace bowler to achieve the feat. Kapil Dev had 23 from 131 Tests and Javagal Srinath 10 from his 67.

In his second avatar, Zaheer, who has the best strike-rate (59) of any Indian bowler with more than 200 wickets, has taken seven five-wicket hauls in 31 Tests. The strike-rate during that period (52.6) is comparable with the elite fast bowlers of any era. On more than one occasion, he has inspired Indian victories, providing breakthroughs with new ball and old.

On Indian soil, where the ball loses its shine quickly, his mastery of reverse swing has been central to the team's fortunes. Even when the slow bowlers have walked off with the big swag of wickets, Zaheer has invariably rattled the stumps or angled one away to take the outside edge when the team was desperate for a breakthrough.

These days, his status as leader of the pack is beyond dispute. Harbhajan Singh, who was the supporting act in Mohali on the second day, said as much when asked to assess his team-mate's importance to the side. "Zak bowled his heart out today, he deserves a lot of credit for his performance," he said. "He will surely be remembered as one of the greats who bowled [fast] for India, like Kapil Dev and Javagal Srinath. Taking wickets on this track - there's no carry - is very difficult. He's very smart with reverse swing."

Zaheer shouldered an additional burden on day two, with Ishant Sharma unable to bowl till the 49th over, having left the field injured on Friday. It meant that India delayed taking the new ball till the 147th over, by which time he had tried pretty much everything to coax something out of the older, softer ball.

He eventually finished with 5 for 94, but will doubtless wonder just how much better the returns could have been had his mates held their catches. Neither Shane Watson nor Tim Paine had gotten off the mark when dropped off his bowling, by Virender Sehwag at gully and MS Dhoni behind the stumps. Between them, they occupied the crease for 89 overs and scored 218 runs.

"We always complain about our fielding, and there's always room to improve," said Harbhajan with typical candour. "Some days, I've seen these guys take brilliant catches and making diving stops. We know we need to help the bowlers. Hopefully, in the second innings, we won't drop any."

As with most matches played in India, the first innings will be decisive. India will need to at least match Australia's 428 to have any chance of forcing a result, but with few signs of wear on the surface so far, Harbhajan was confident that the game hadn't drifted away. "We need to bat well in the first innings and put pressure when they bat second," he said. "There will be some wear and tear and some spin, and we will try to bowl them out for as little as we can and try and chase that on the fifth day."

He admitted, however, that the loss of Virender Sehwag just before stumps was a major setback, after he had once again toyed with the bowlers in the early stages. "Viru looks to dominate, it doesn't matter whether he's playing in Perth, Mohali, Sydney or England, and he wins a lot of games," said Harbhajan. "It would have been nice if he was still there, but we have Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, [VVS] Laxman, [Suresh] Raina, Dhoni, and myself ... we have a lot of batting."

Those batsmen will need to stand up and be counted on Sunday. Two years ago, when the series started in Bangalore, Zaheer and Harbhajan had to bail India out of a desperate situation in order to save the game. Having strived so hard with the ball, Zaheer will hope that no such heroics are needed this time.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Sibhi on October 3, 2010, 6:49 GMT

    @Krisdaleo : well Said!!! All we need is fast bowler with zak and if possible an allrounder(medium pace)like Morkel or watson ... India can do real better ..... BCCI Should send lot more youngsters to Other countries for Playing County, in that way they can get play with good players and lean new stuffs... also the valuable Foreign cond Experience ....

    On topic : Zaheer is awesome when its reversing!!! He is one of the few bowlers(left-arm) these days who can do it consistently

  • Dummy4 on October 3, 2010, 6:45 GMT

    where are th quicks??? th mithun,, the munafs,, th tyagis,, and the quickest of them all ISHANT sharma.........take the one man out of india and u wonder who will hold this fort,,,,,,,,, ZAHEER khan now an aged warhorse has N 20year OLD ishant to compliment,, in a a different way,, ishant once touched 150kmph + speed is bowling at 120kmph,,,what these guys hold for indian fast bowling is a painful story... one guy looked potent is UMESH YADAV, he is going to be quick without doubt,,, ZAHEER for time being needs to c arry th torch of pace,,,, zaheer has much more to offer,,

  • vineet on October 3, 2010, 6:36 GMT

    @ElectronSmoke hi dear...Australians have played their cricket in their own hard way.......simply sledging and taking vital breakthroughs.......and now let them see others can play so called hard cricket also......and grind them under pressure........frankly this indian team is at least 100 times better than Australians........the result is they were indulged in a draw with inexperienced Pakistan on a neutral ground vindicates my point...and who knows if Pakistan have not indulged in spot fixing they might have won the series as well.....ashes are near and they should better be prepared for the humiliation of loosing ashes at home to the talented English side.......they should be ready to get this shock. which is inevitable now seeing their haplessly slow performance with bat......

  • Rahul on October 3, 2010, 5:36 GMT

    Zak is an asset 2 Team India. We Indians know his worth & so does Team India. It is very unfortunate dat d rest of d world don't give him d same credit he deserves. For me he is currently d world's best left arm bowler (Mohd Aamer has played too little 2 b called d 'best'). There is no iota of doubt dat he is among d top India has produced. Fast bowlers r scarce here & Zaheer is a breath of fresh air...his seam position & control of d old & new ball is exemplary, something dat all left armers wud love 2 emulate. The reason why his stats suggest otherwise is purely becoz he doesn't get much support from d other end, which actually puts 2 much pressure on him. Wish he had 1 decent partner at d other end who cud compliment him. @vipin.chaudhary2325...I wud also like 2 c Irfan bowling from d other end. But he has 2 increase his pace. Gary made it very clear dat it is no use having a person who bowls only 125 kmph in test matches. His verdict was clear. Its time he pulls up his sox

  • Niraj on October 3, 2010, 5:28 GMT

    I think some Indians (Naren here for example!) do not realize Zaheer Khans worth in the Indian team and that is just plain ignorant! India's climb to the number one test position is owed just as much to Zaheer as much it is to our renowned batting line up. Zak you make me proud not only with your skills but with your attitude on the field as well....especially Punters he clearly deserves all the banter you throw at him....what can I say Naren...what comes around goes around!

  • FAISAL on October 3, 2010, 4:39 GMT

    Zaheer is any & everytime better bowler than any other in india........and even i would love to see irfan pathan in the team its only a politics which is keeping him out of the Team India .......Bring Irfan Back for test as well as oneday and t-20

  • natmastak on October 3, 2010, 4:18 GMT

    @ naren .. Zak has achieved more than punter.zak has lead the mediocre bowling attack from rank five to rank one in tests. Punter lead mediocre batting line up from rank one to rank five.learn to give credit where iit iis due.

  • Dummy4 on October 3, 2010, 4:06 GMT

    Harbhajan has included himself in the "lot of batting to come" - LMAO, cant believe this! hahaha!

  • KISH on October 3, 2010, 4:00 GMT

    Australia played so poorly to limb to 428 in 5 sessions. India shouldn't worry too much and bat on. However, a result seems unlikely. I am still waiting for a day when India finally gives up its hopes on an Ishant Sharma revival. It is never going to happen unless they drop him. This guy is pampered, spoon fed and has been made a millionare. Give him a break to understand life and grow up. He will come good. Sreesanth would be able to do the job better. I am excited to see Dravid batting so positive. Looking forward to the thrid day to see him go about his business in aggressive manner.

  • faiz on October 3, 2010, 2:51 GMT

    hi,Zak is bettr thn srinath,he is a gr8 fast bowler after kapildev.his stats told..but team mates doesn't co-operate wid his bowling..irfan pathn is the better partnr to his bowling,selectors giv some chances to irfan..

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