The left-armers' curse?
Zaheer Khan's constant flirtations with injury, the latest being the tweaking of the quad muscle in his left leg, have been chronicled in detail. But Zaheer is just one among a long line of left-arm seamers who have been plagued by injuries in the past few years. A look back at the last decade throws up bowlers from almost every country whose careers have been interrupted, and sometimes doomed, by injuries.
The beanpole from Western Australia, Reid was gangly in every sense of the word. With a deceptively easy paced run-up, he could get the ball to hurry on and the angle of delivery always proved disconcerting. When it came to injuries, he nearly covered the entire gamut. A fragile back - he broke down in Lahore in 1988 - required him to go through a complex operation. The recovery process turned out to be a disaster - damaged ribs, torn intercostals, weak quadracep and a tendonitis in his shoulder. After a two-year break, he returned for the Ashes in 1990-91, devastated England at the MCG, before suffering another injury to his intercostal muscle. One year later, he played his 27th and last Test and Bob Simpson's summed up his career by saying that Reid was the `biggest if-only' when he coached the Australian team.
When people mention Pravin Amre's century on debut in 1992, there is always a mention of scoring it against the ferocity of Allan Donald and Brett Schultz at Durban. That, incidentally, was also Schultz's debut Test. The highpoint was to come a year later on the unresponsive tracks of Sri Lanka, where his 20 wickets from three Tests engineered a 1-0 series win for South Africa. Among fast bowlers, only Richard Hadlee has a better return in a series in Sri Lanka. Then, disaster struck, as a knee injury followed by a surgery forced him to miss South Africa's first tour of Australia since their return to the international fold. He returned to the side only in 1995 - since his injury had given Fanie De Villiers a chance to make his debut and cement his place in the side - but broke down with a muscle strain against England at Centurion Park. His final fling was in 1997, on the tour to Pakistan, but a blood vessel burst in his left shoulder in the first Test at Rawalpindi and ensured that it was his last.
Twenty wickets in nine matches in the 1999 World Cup. Not Shane Warne - who took his 20 in 10 matches - but Geoff Allott. In bowler-friendly conditions, he swung it both ways and finished with a fantastic average of 16.25. Not many know that in the same year, at Lord's, Allott played his tenth and last Test. Ever since 1997, a year after his debut, he was troubled by a frail back and wobbly hip. In 1998, he gave up a job in a bank to concentrate on his cricket and the gamble seemed to have paid off with a rich harvest in the World Cup. But after the England tour of 1999, he missed the entire domestic season and, in November 2000, he decided to restrict himself only to one-dayers. However, he didn't play a single ODI in the following five months and in March 2001, he retired.
Another gangly seamer from Western Australia, who ended up playing for England. Alan Mullally had the basic ingredients for a successful left-armer - bounce, angle and the one that came in. But a knee operation in 1997 followed by a cracked rib in 2000 - which was also operated upon - resulted in his career becoming a start-stop affair. His rib niggles forced him out of at least three overseas tours. The fourth Test of the 2001 Ashes series was his 19th Test, and considering the present riches in the England pace-bowling department, that will probably turn out to be his last.
After a promising start, when his alarming lift off the pitch caused many batsmen problems, Zoysa's career has been riddled with breaks. He hobbled off midway through his third Test, against Pakistan in Colombo in April, 1997. An injured ankle in July 2001 caused more problems and a mixture of poor form and constant injuries kept him out of the side for nearly two years. He made a comeback in the home series against Australia this year, and barring a brief absence due to a minor calf injury in March, has been a regular in the side.
Lasting a complete tour has been a problem for Ashish Nehra and in the last few years he might have had double the number of injuries as his Test batting average (5.50). A rankle in the ankle was followed by an operation in 2003, but a recurrence of the injury meant that he missed crucial matches in the last year. Two moments stand out in Nehra's career: the World Cup match at Durban when he scythed through England's batting order with 6 for 23 and the superb final over at Karachi earlier this year when Pakistan threatened to chase 350. On both occasions, inevitably, he had just recovered from injury.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is on the staff of Wisden Cricinfo.