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Question was whether I wanted to come back - Zaheer

Amol Karhadkar

November 26, 2013

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Zaheer Khan bowls against West Indies A, India A v West Indies A, 3rd unofficial Test, Hubli, 3rd day, October 11, 2013
Zaheer Khan believes his stint with the India A team helped him regain confidence © BCCI
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India fast bowler Zaheer Khan's inclusion in the Test squad for the upcoming tour of South Africa marked the end of his year-long exile from the team. But for Zaheer, the primary question had been whether he wanted to go through the arduous process of trying to make a comeback, rather than how to go about it.

"Last year, I sat down and I was thinking about exactly how to get back. Firstly, if I wanted to make a comeback, that was the biggest question for me," Zaheer said on the sidelines of Mumbai's training session ahead of their Ranji Trophy match against Vidarbha on Thursday. "When the answer was yes, I chalked out the strategy that was exactly needed and I did everything to make sure I was there. Obviously, the physical aspect was the big thing and I had to tackle that. And then in consultation with a lot of trainers and physios, I chalked out a plan and so far it has worked."

Zaheer's latest comeback to the Test squad is different from his previous ones. Seldom has he been dropped on form during a long international career that began in 2000. However, his poor performances against England at home in December last year and his lack of match-fitness resulted in him being axed from the team.

After being injured for most of IPL 2013, Zaheer travelled to France for a strenuous fitness stint with trainer Tim Exeter. He followed that up by training with former India trainer Adrian le Roux in Bloemfontein, before returning home and putting in a big performance for the India A team in the two unofficial Tests against West Indies A. Zaheer said that it was those games, particularly the one in Hubli, that helped him regain his confidence.

"It's been a slow progress right from Shimoga. When I went to Shimoga, I knew that I need some overs under my belt," he said. "I didn't want anything to happen suddenly. I was kind of progressing slowly but surely," Zaheer said. "As I bowled a few overs in that particular game, slowly things started picking up. I've always believed in match practice being the best practice. The spell that I bowled in Hubli towards the end of the game gave me a lot of confidence and from then I just picked it up."

Zaheer also played three Ranji matches, including one against a strong Delhi batting unit, to try out different variations and prove his fitness to the selectors. "It was more to do with getting in that zone as far as matches are concerned. Once I had overs under my belt I was comfortable being on the field.

"I was feeling that the recovery in between the spells was spot on. I was able to recover between the spells and come next day. So those were the things I was looking at. As far as Test matches are concerned, not only do you have to put in the effort on day one, but the important thing is you have to come back the following day and make sure you are there from ball one."

Zaheer's stint in France also made him want to start a fitness centre in India on the lines of Exeter's set-up. "I have planned to start something so that lot of people get benefited. I had the privilege to go abroad, I could afford to go and do those things. But I feel in India you need a set-up like that in terms of physiotherapy and fitness, so hopefully instead of giving you a lowdown, I can give you the real thing."

His immediate goal, however, is to excel on the field and mentor India's young seamers. "That comes naturally for me. If I can help someone, I don't hesitate to go up to him and say what I feel. Being a bowler in the subcontinent is not an easy task. It's about just backing yourself and believing that. That thought process is very important when playing in the subcontinent."

Zaheer said he was looking forward to the upcoming series in South Africa, where he has fond memories. On India's previous tour there, Zaheer returned to the team after a groin strain and contributed to a Test victory in Durban.

Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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Posted by SridharKalyan on (December 3, 2013, 13:54 GMT)

Hope Zak gets the five more test wickets to bring his tally to 300, before he bows out after this SA tour... it is sad to see his struggle with his physical condition and the effort required to bring it back into action, everytime. Hope he can instil half his commitment to the likes of Ishant, etc to make them better, before he signs off.

Posted by   on (December 2, 2013, 4:24 GMT)

'Zak is Back' - and yes I am very glad for him. Zaheer is someone who still has a lot to offer to Indian cricket and particularly if you are touring overseas, it is most essential to have someone as experienced as Zak to spearhead the pace attack. Also he is someone who has always been sort of a morale boost to the new fast legs that eventually made it to the final XI when Khan was around, namely - Umesh, Nehra, Munaf, Sreesanth, etc. And that is very important at an International level to have someone clost to your bowling run-up, someone who could just run from his mid-on or mid-off position and give you that pat on the back and give you lessons as to you how to bowl the next ball. Alas, his injuries kicked him out of the Indian squad. He must be included in the final XI because you would not like him to just visit the land of Proteas and warm the benches of the dressing room. Including him should be on the priority list. Or else I feel such selections don't help anyone.

Posted by   on (December 1, 2013, 12:58 GMT)

Wise decision to pick him since he's the only decent pacer to do good in SA. Smith had no clue of how to play him in their last outing.

Posted by Prakmca on (November 30, 2013, 15:45 GMT)

What the difference he going to add to Indian bowling attack? we have to wait and see... Also how many times he played 2-3 series without injuries??? The mark of the good bowler is to stay fit and play long.....

Lets see whether he is able to transform his domestic season form to International level???

Posted by preetam040 on (November 29, 2013, 17:52 GMT)

india will win the series 2-0 as now we hav evry batsman in form and with return of Zak we will hav deadly bowlin attack...my pick is: vijay,dhawan,pujara,rohit,kohli,dhoni,jadeja,ashwin,bhuvi,Zak,shami..

Posted by theguitarist on (November 29, 2013, 15:39 GMT)

Very nice to read all the comments posted here. This signifies we have a democratic world. SA has the advantage because, at home they are considered as favourites in most newspapers, magazines or even by the experts on television. For India, this will probably the first season out without the big guns. So no one can ever guess the outcome of the series. The new Indian line-up though in-experienced on away games, it has immense talent and killer instinct (which was lacking sometime back) which gets the opponent. I am supporting India in this series.

Posted by SL_rockz on (November 29, 2013, 14:47 GMT)

Finally ... India flies out of their den :) .... Now they will be tested with real speed bounce and swing......lets look how they face...I bet they will be beaten in tests....SA are a far better side in tests... especially in home conditions...

Posted by sevugapandian on (November 29, 2013, 7:13 GMT)

I don't think, Zaheer can success in SA,Umesh is having better pace and good length than Zaheer, the big advantage for Zaheer is good experience in SA grounds, my choice will be bring either Nehra or Ausik Srinivas from Tamil Nadu.

Posted by Dravid_Pujara_Gravitas_Atheist on (November 29, 2013, 3:53 GMT)

Can you last the distance? Why talk so much. Why can't you let your bowling do the talking? Fingers crossed!

Posted by maawan on (November 28, 2013, 20:05 GMT)

I think it will be close series but South Africa will win..Indian have two horror series outside sub-continent 4-0 thrashings in Eng and Aus but this time I think their batsman will perform better...

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