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Wasim Akram sees big role for Zaheer Khan

Nagraj Gollapudi

February 20, 2014

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Zaheer Khan celebrates Peter Fulton's wicket, New Zealand v India, 1st Test, Auckland, 1st day, February 6, 2014
Wasim Akram: "Other than taking wickets Zaheer's responsibility should help make one or two good fast bowlers before he exits cricket" © Getty Images
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Even as the whispers have started to get louder over Zaheer Khan's future in the Indian side, Wasim Akram, the former Pakistan fast bowling great, and former India bowling coach Eric Simons believe the left-arm quick still has a big role to play.

In the four Tests since returning to the side in the South Africa tour, Zaheer has taken 16 wickets including a five-for in the second Test against New Zealand. However both South Africa and New Zealand batsmen raised big totals, capitalising on the inconsistency of the Indian bowling which lacked the intensity and importantly a bowling leader.

"It is very rare that you make a comeback having played 90 Tests. So it is just not your bowling but also your reputation at stake," Akram told ESPNcricinfo. "But in the time left before he finally retires, Zaheer has the opportunity to contribute a lot still. Like Imran [Khan] did with myself and Waqar [Younis], Zak can stand at mid-on and mid-off and teach other bowlers skills like reverse swing, have a word with the young fast bowlers when things are not going well."

Shortening his run-up, how and when to use reverse swing, how to use angles and yorkers were some of the things Akram said Imran taught him during his formative years. "Talking, explaining fast bowling is an art. Just because one is a fast bowler does not always mean he can teach easily to others. So the more Zaheer talks to the others, he will learn and teach more. I used to just ask Imran 'kya karoon, kya karoon (what should I do)' for the first three years. And that is how I learned."

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Akram cited the example of the Wellington Test last week where Ishant Sharma went wicketless in the second innings - a match that Brendon McCullum turned on its head with a triple-century. "Dhoni cannot speak from behind the wickets. Ishant no doubt bowled well during the series, but no wicket for 160-odd runs it means he had some psychological issues. So it is for Zak to take the initiative to figure out what Ishant's plan was and talk to him accordingly. If the pitch is flat, wickets are not coming, then how does one stop the runs are things that have to be spoken about. Other than taking wickets Zaheer's responsibility should help make one or two good fast bowlers before he exits cricket."

Rahul Dravid, former India captain, told ESPNcricinfo earlier this week Zaheer's struggles were evident in both South Africa and New Zealand and the bowler needed to ask himself some tough questions. "I would hate to see Zaheer Khan end his career bowling 120-125 kph and limp away from international cricket," Dravid said.

However Simons, who was the bowling coach when fellow South African Gary Kirsten was the Indian coach, pointed out that speed has never really been Zaheer's strength. "Zaheer is not a very physical bowler," Simons said. "Zaheer is lot more tactical in his approach, lot more skillful in the sense he has relied more on the swinging the ball and using the variations to be successful. And he will just end up relying more and more on those skills as time goes along."

Simons also said that India could not afford to carry a fast-bowling pack who were more medium than fast. "The important thing in any bowling attack is the balance so you can't have three or four guys just bowling at 120-125 kph and try and swing the ball around. If he (Zaheer) is used more to complement the other chaps, who are bowling quicker then he becomes more effective. That will naturally become his role in future. Even Richard Hadlee became very effective in such a role."

Simons is clear that the best way India can extract the best out of Zaheer was by playing him not as a "strike" bowler but as a "skillful" bowler. "The one thing about Zak is he is a person thrives on lots of bowling. I remember when he came to South Africa he had not bowled as much as he had perhaps in the past. I certainly sensed he was slow to get his rhythm. He needs to be used in a manner that allows him to be the skillful bowler that he is; may be not as the strike bowler. May be he bowls a few overs upfront with the new ball while it is swinging because he is one of the best exponents of that art and then later on in the game where he can bring to the fore the different variations he has."

Simons admitted that considering Zaheer is now 35 he cannot escape such critical assessment especially since he is a fast bowler. "You can't play him too far in the future. You have to be realistic."

Although Zaheer had worked hard to get back to fitness last year Dravid said that he was not entirely confident about him featuring during the five-Test series in England later this summer. TA Sekhar, former India fast bowler and selector, however pointed out that Zaheer was crucial for the development of the inexperienced Indian bowling attack.

"I would rather play Zaheer abroad even if he has become slower," Sekhar said. "He is one guy who knows when to bowl fast and when to bowl within himself. 124kph you read and wonder what is he doing. But that is not his real speed. Perhaps he is trying to conserve his energy. He is also using a lot of change of pace now. So he deserves to there especially now when the bowling group is developing."

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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Posted by android_user on (March 16, 2014, 7:28 GMT)

why not zaheer for odi's, after all odi is as important as any other format, it holds world cup Imran, wasim, Mcgrath, left test cricket first and continued plays in odis if he can bowl 30 plus overs in one innings in tests why not in odis

Posted by rnkbornfree on (February 23, 2014, 19:19 GMT)

He is right zaheer has lot to contribute and dhoni should retire from test cricket his luck factor is over now never supported senior players just been jealous as in when india won world cup many said it was ganguly who founded greats like sehwag,yuvraj,gambhir,zaheer and nehra and he just lead team thats it , if he would have supported senior players then such conditions we would have never faced rohit sharma failed again he is just a t20 batsman and ashwin is also an t20 bowler ojha should be given chance outside india and karthik should replace dhoni in test.....

Posted by Fan1969 on (February 23, 2014, 8:54 GMT)

India faces a hobsons choice. Continue with Ishant, Zaheer who are occasionally good but largely below average. Alternatively India must try out Umesh, Varun, Mohit, Vinay, Bhuvnesh who may not only be expensive but may not get any breakthroughs as well.

The short and long of this is that thanks to lack of choice the fans will see much more of Zaheer and Ishant than is desirable.

This team is transitioning and though the team has found excellent batting talent in Virat, Pujara, Dhawan, Rahane, Vijay and Rohit (in that order) it remains poor in bowling resources.

Ashwin, and Jadeja are largely ineffective overseas and Harbhajan has completely lost the bite. Shami is new and promising but bowlers need to hunt in packs - Aus, Eng and SA have 3-4 fast bowlers and when even one is ineffective it tells on the team like we saw England ineffective as Anderson was below par. Steyn was below par in 1st Test at Jo'berg against India and thus put SA under huge pressure.

FIND NEW TALENT!!!

Posted by cricpanther on (February 23, 2014, 7:05 GMT)

Wasim bhai is 100 % right for Zaheer. Zaheer is the great bowler and great to have. Do not forget without Yuvi-Zaheer-Gambhir-Sachin, India could have not win last 2011 world cup. Please ignore dravid for his opinion against Zaheer. Dravid is not as reliable as off the field. And also he is not like Sachin who can trust whole India. Dravid and Kumble can make friendship and do all non sense for IPL auction time as well, who knows!!! Most of the south indians are kind of people who changes for their own benefits. Dont listen to Dravid/Kumble, both are business minded and if Kumble wanted to sell his software programs, BCCI should be his customers!! Look at Zaheer, after his training at France, he looks 5 year younger and fit. Dravid's statement against him is really sad. Must be some bangalore bowlers are in queue and they must be telling to Dravid to raise voice. Man India first..leave rest of the things. Listen to Saurav/Sachin/Ravi Shastri/M. Amarnath......No Others..that's it!!

Posted by cheguramana on (February 22, 2014, 15:00 GMT)

I was very excited to se Zak make a come back ... He really bowled well in first Test against SA. After that's it's been quite poor, even in NZ where he had made a huge impact in earlier visits. If he's really needed for grooming youngsters, it's not seen in the results. He's not given the captain enuf confidence to use Umesh or Bhuvi. Was he contributing to Ishants good show (in patches) ?? Time for him to retire...and add value as a bowling coach, it at all..

Posted by Cricket0083 on (February 22, 2014, 14:15 GMT)

I think we need bring back Gambir and Waseem Jaffer, Waseem Jaffer is a great test cricketer. Gambir can lead the test team and Dhoni can lead ODI and TW20. I think Kohli need some more experince as a Captian

Posted by CricketLifer on (February 22, 2014, 4:13 GMT)

Zaheer has a flash in the pan like occasional performance, much like Ishant. Both should be dropped. Zaheer is also a liability in batting, fielding and even running between the wickets - ditto for Ishant. Both should be dropped and chances should be given to youngsters. Zaheer though should be given a assistant coaching type position to help develop young bowlers.

Posted by Ms.Cricket on (February 22, 2014, 2:06 GMT)

India have a good Test and ODI side but need some fine tuning. Zaheer and Ishant should be dropped from both sides and B.Kumar, Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron be grommed properly. In ODI Timary should be recalled and Rahane should open with Dhawan. And coach Fletcher should go.

Posted by   on (February 21, 2014, 18:12 GMT)

when india plays 4 bowlers , zaheer is a problem coz,he bowls tight in new ball. But fails to take wickets . It is time to employ zak as bowling coach as his experience is very much needed for indian team... We need bowlers who consistently bowl 135+ throughout the test match. Ishanth is okay he bowls whole heartedly but, he is repeating d same mistakes ,bowling short at 132k's is easy for any overseas batsman. Many ppl call him to bowl fuller,but he is not doing it. Bhuvi is a great swing bowler but ,ball swinging at below 130k it is easy for overseas batsman to takle him,oly subcontinent batsman will struggle against him.Umesh yadav,shami,ishanth,ishwar pandey,and pankaj singh should be groomed for tests,and varun aaron should play oly in shorter formats ,to manage his workload. Ranji tracks should be tailor made for fast bowlers on first 2 days and encourage fast bowlers to bowl fastly.

Posted by Witty_Cricketer on (February 21, 2014, 17:13 GMT)

@KiwiRocker, if Shami is a good bowler, why should we thank Wasim Bhai for that? Did he spot Shami and taught him anything about swing? I didn't think he had anything with development of Shami or did he?

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