India A v West Indies A, 2nd unofficial Test, Shimoga, 1st day October 2, 2013

A low-key return for Zaheer

Those looking for a quick verdict on Zaheer Khan's comeback will have to wait
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Those looking for a quick verdict on Zaheer Khan's comeback will have to wait. On his first day of first-class cricket since he injured himself playing in the Ranji Trophy around the last New Year, Zaheer was neither exceptional nor awful. He didn't create a bundle of opportunities, but he didn't concede free runs either, except for the seven no-balls, as clear a sign as any of a bowler just coming back to competitive cricket. He bowled four spells of 5-2-6-0 (at the start of the match), 5-0-22-1 (either side of lunch), 2-0-15-0 (looking for reverse with a 60-over-old ball), and 4-3-1-0 (with the old ball after the 80th over).

The big danger sign - his holding on to his groin, which had become a common sight on Indian Test fields - was absent. The pace looked similar to when he left, slower than colleague Mohammed Shami's. Some old positive signs were there, but not for long enough.

With the first ball he bowled, Zaheer squared Kraigg Brathwaite up. He beat the West Indies A opener outside off later in the over, but the first spell didn't contain any other menace. Brathwaite became tighter in defence, kept leaving outside off, and once had to wait for a short ball to arrive and cut it in front of point for four. The slowness off the pitch wasn't doing Zaheer any favours.

In the first spell, Zaheer didn't bowl much to Kieran Powell, a left-hand opener, Zaheer's favoured prey. He had Powell on strike for the first time in the fifth over, and let him off with an easy single. The next time Zaheer saw him, he was in his own fifth over, and was driven on the up and then tucked away off the hip. There was no indication of the ball moving away from the batsman.

Just before lunch, Zaheer came back with West Indies only one down. He continued after the break, and got Narsingh Deonarine with one that seemed to have moved sharply into him. Finally, the left-hand batsman taken. However, this one was not a typical Zaheer set-up with one coming in after a few going away. This was a reckless shot across the line by the batsman. He was taken off immediately.

The next time you saw Zaheer was just after the 60th over, which is when he has turned many a lukewarm start to a Test interesting. This time he bowled only two overs, and didn't seem to get any reverse.

The day was now building up to the second new ball, Zaheer came on to bowl after the 80th over, but didn't ask for the new ball. This spell had the only signs of the old Zaheer. There seemed a semblance of setting the batsman up. The effort increased. He bowled bouncer after bouncer to wicketkeeper-batsman Chadwick Walton, but none of them so short or so high that the batsman could leave them easily.

You could see Zaheer was onto something. That old sense of anticipation that accompanied Zaheer with the old ball returned. After a few bouncers, he slipped one length, and beat Walton outside off. Walton was caught on the back foot. After a spell that gave nothing away, but promised a bit, he was taken off with only one over to be bowled from his end.

It is hard to know if Zaheer was satisfied with the day's work: one wicket in 16 overs, seven no-balls, but still going under three an over. Sometimes, for a bowler coming out of injury, going through a day's bowling without much discomfort is in itself a big win. And Zaheer famously starts coming into his own when coming back from a break only after he has bowled about 100 overs.

There was clear re-affirmation, though, that the road back to the India Test team is a long one.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Nampally on October 3, 2013, 16:30 GMT

    Yes indeed, the Road back to Indian Test Cricket is a long one for ZAK. He will be 35 in 4 days & he is just coming back from an injury & long lay off from competitive cricket. With age as #1 enemy of fast bowlers, Can ZAK still exude that old Magic? In addition he is competing with a much younger group of up & coming Pace bowlers like B.Kumar (23), Ishwar Pandey (24), Shukla (23), D.Kulkarni (23), Mohit Sharma(23), Sandeep Sharma (22). In addition there are already Ishant Sharma & U.Yadev both 25, who are already in the Indian test team. It is more beneficial to have ZAK coaching these young fast bowlers the art of seam bowling in a training camp. India has a whole series of pace bowlers but they need to focus on length, direction & controlled swing to be effective. There is no point in having 140+ KPH bowler if he has neither direction nor control in consistent manner -e.g. Ishant Sharma &Yadev.This should be the focus of BCCI- develop good seamers with controlled length & direction.

  • android_user on October 3, 2013, 15:55 GMT

    Expecting great come back from zaheer

  • CandidIndian on October 3, 2013, 15:10 GMT

    Both Zak and Yuvi worked hard to gain fitness recently in France. However for Yuvi it was much easier to make a comeback as he did well on typical batting friendly wickets in India as compared to Zak, as being a pace bowler is quite hard to do well on these tracks. If Zaheer is fitter, sooner or later he will make it to Indian team. Most of the time in his career he has struggled with fitness rather than form. I am sure he is aiming for SA tour(if it happens) or NZ tour later this year. In test series vs WI it is almost sure that India will go with three spinners like it happened in Aus series.

  • Al_Bundy1 on October 3, 2013, 12:16 GMT

    Zaheer and Yuvraj won the World Cup 2011 for India. It was because of Zaheer's bowling that India reached top ranking in Test cricket. We haven't won a World Cup or reached no. 1 ranking in Tests in past 27 years before 2011, even when we had great batsmen like Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman, and Ganguly, and great bowlers like Kumble and Srinath. Zaheer and Yuvraj deserve more chances than everybody else.

  • DhairyBoghani on October 3, 2013, 10:50 GMT

    Zaheer was best once. He can come back again but he have to prove his worth at domestic level. otherwise B.Kumar(swing), full fit Yadav(speed) & inform Ishant(bounce) supported by one allrounder(binny/nayar). This attack can win any match against any team(Eng/SA/Aus/Nz/Wi - outside asia).

  • dummy4fb on October 3, 2013, 8:39 GMT

    If only Zaheer had taken care of his fitness as he is doing now earlier, he could have served Indian cricket so much better. His problem is the lower half of his body. It was always clearly visible from his run up, especially the start, that he is not a smooth runner. Plus his leap further compounded the problem. He had to work on his legs. Good examples for him would be the likes of Kapil Dev and Courtney Walsh, who were never down with injuries in the leg region even after bowling thousands of overs. This was because of their rigorous training routine. Sir Richard Hadlee was another example. He became fitter with age. When he retired at around 40 he was still nippy and it was purely because of his superior fitness standards, especially legs that helped him with that explosive last step in his action. There is no reason why Zaheer can't emulate these bowlers. Skill wise he is already up there with the best. It is the body that needs toning.

  • Naresh28 on October 3, 2013, 6:03 GMT

    @vivek shan - nonsense, Zaks was instrumental in India reaching No1. His style of bowling can cause injury on legs. Constant leap at point of delivery. Unhelpful Indian conditions for fast bowlers always causes problems for our pacers. His entry back could have been much better on pace friendly conditions.

  • dummy4fb on October 3, 2013, 5:08 GMT

    He s an average bowler who had some success then and there . If only Agarkar had the consistent support this guy had!!!

  • NewYorkCricket on October 2, 2013, 21:40 GMT

    First full day match after a long long time.. Give him some time.

  • Phantom96 on October 2, 2013, 19:47 GMT

    @Shri Ram i wouldnt say he was up there with steyn, but was definately equal to anderson 2009-2011, until india started making dead pitches domintaed by spin. Second only to kapil dev as the greatest quick of india. i get the same feeling, re-watching his triumphs such as his heroics in the 2011 world cup, india need him if they ever want to be competitive outside asia

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