Top Performer - Zaheer Khan

All fired up

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan profiles Zaheer Khan

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan

August 1, 2007

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Take five: Zaheer leads the team off the field on day four at Trent Bridge © Getty Images
Arguments rage on about jelly-aches, beamers, shoulder-barging and on-field chatter, but no one can dispute the Man-of-the-Match award at Trent Bridge. Zaheer Khan swung the match India's way on the first day before settling the issue on the fourth with a spell reminiscent of some of the great left-arm masters of the past.

A year ago nobody would have dared predict Zaheer bowling India to a Test win. News of his tremendous success at Worcestershire filtered in once in a while but the general sentiment, especially with Munaf Patel and Sreesanth turning in sterling performances in the West Indies, was that India needed to forget the past and move on.

Zaheer signed up for Worcestershire with a long-term plan. He made it clear to the club that one of the reasons he had come on board was to improve his fitness. He shed weight, regained his rhythm and - this is vital - learned to adjust his bowling to the vagaries of the English weather. His expertise was on view in this match - he swung the ball more than his English counterparts, hit the right lengths and took wickets in both overcast and sunny conditions.

He had a poor start at Lord's, especially in the first session of the match, but reached an important landmark in that game, becoming only the fourth left-arm fast bowler to reach 150 wickets. It was at Trent Bridge, though, that he found his match-winning touch, swinging the ball either way, from both over and round the wicket, troubling both right-handers and left. He exploited Alastair Cook's weakness against the ball that jags back, tempted Andrew Strauss into flashing loosely, and hustled Michael Vaughan from round the wicket. These were big wickets and India's spearhead snaffled them out.

Adding to it all was the business with the jelly beans at Trent Bridge. England's fielders decided to leave some of the sweets on the pitch when Zaheer came to bat. He didn't take it lying down and got into an altercation with Kevin Pietersen, brandishing his bat at him. He was also charged up when he came out to bowl. While his bowling partners fell apart on the fourth day - except RP Singh who occasionally zipped out a wicket-taking delivery - Zaheer kept running in hard.

His spell with the second new ball decided the match. "It was a critical part of the game and I knew the new ball had to count," said Dravid. "Batting wasn't going to be easy and they had two key batsmen at the crease, especially Michael [Vaughan] batting fantastically well. I told the boys not to get too excited, put the ball there, there was still something in the wicket and we needed to be patient. And Zaheer responded beautifully in that over, and I don't think we looked back."

The freakish dismissal of Vaughan, dragging one from his pads onto the stumps, opened the floodgates. Paul Collingwood and Ian Bell were then prised out with incisive swingers. Zaheer ended with his best match figures, a fitting reward for one of the better spells in recent memory.

What he said

"I think it's been my best spell overall so far. I'm happy that the ball was swinging in conditions that were so good for batting. I began swinging the ball both ways around three years back in Bangladesh. My spell with Worcestershire also helped me."

What they said

"I spent some time with him in Bangladesh - he is a confident bowler now and he knows his trade. He knows what his strengths are and he focuses on that. He also knows that he is the spearhead of the attack and accepts that responsibility. I thought that his bowling today was outstanding - a fantastic spell - the best I have seen him bowl." - Ravi Shastri

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is assistant editor of Cricinfo

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