'Injuries cost Zaheer a lot of wickets'
When I saw Zaheer Khan in 2000, I thought he was the best bowler around, in terms of hunger, in terms of wanting to do well. We played a match - he played for MRF - in one of the local tournaments in Bangalore, and I found him the best bowler. He looked better than me at that point of time, I would say.
So, when it was very clear that I could not go to the Champions Trophy [ICC knockout], which was held in Kenya, I spoke to Chandu Borde [chairman of selectors] to pick him up straight away because he was that good. So that's how Zaheer Khan came into the system.
It was nice to see a good left-arm seamer bowl at 140 [kph]. He was rapid, which was good for international cricket. He had a good line, and more than anything else he had the ability to bring the ball back in. That's what I saw in him.
I always thought that the more fast bowlers you have in your side - Ashish [Nehra] was also up and coming then - then your longevity will also be better. I never thought that Zaheer was my competitor. I thought he always complemented me in many games.
I think that was the time when we saw a lot of fast bowlers come in. Ashish had come earlier than Zaheer, but he was marred with a lot of injuries. Ajit [Agarkar] also came in around the same time. Others also started waking up to the possibility of fast bowlers coming in. In the ODIs and Tests played by India, we didn't like going in with one symbolic fast bowler and going in with two fast bowlers made a lot of sense. I think One-Day [Internationals] gave birth to many fast bowlers then.
The World Cup in 2003 was the first time as a bowling group we started to watch videos, we had technology at our disposal and started to strategise after looking at a batsman's strength and weakness. Ashish, Zaheer and I worked on the batsmen for the first time and technology was completely used to enhance our efficiency. The three of us got together and that understanding made us a good combination. Especially in the World Cup we knew what we were doing up until the final.
As far as Zaheer's injuries go, I thought he should have managed it a little better. I certainly feel that injuries cost him a lot of wickets. I must say that the body is the biggest weapon you possess and you have got to take care of it. I believe if Zaheer had taken care of his body he would have had another 100 Test match wickets.
I didn't see a lot of the mentor in him because I retired in 2003 when he was still very young. But these are things you pick up over a point of time, and I think he is a good human being more importantly. So, these things come naturally to him.
All cricketers have to fall back on cricket for something or the other. It all depends on where his interest lies. He is a successful businessman already. Mentoring and bowling coaching comes naturally to most of the bowlers. That is one aspect he will always do well in with his natural flair for coaching.
As told to Arun Venugopal
Former India fast bowler Javagal Srinath played 67 Tests and 229 ODIs between 1991 and 2003