South Africa v India, 1st Test, Centurion December 15, 2010

Zaheer almost certain to miss first Test


India find themselves in their usual predicament of having to start a series without one of their big players. This time, on a tour of reckoning of sorts, it's their best bowler over the last three years, Zaheer Khan, who is struggling with a hamstring injury and is almost certainly going to miss the Centurion Test starting Thursday. "We'll take a call tomorrow morning before the start of the game," MS Dhoni said. "He is quite doubtful for tomorrow."

Dhoni knows how big a blow it will be to lose Zaheer, because while Ishant Sharma and Sreesanth might be dangerous, they don't quite guarantee the level of control that Zaheer does. "Zak has been our best bowler who has always led the bowling attack, whatever the conditions may be, whether it is a flat track or a seaming track," Dhoni said on the eve of the first Test. "He is always one bowler who has done really well. It is a blow, but at the same time we have to see the longer picture. We have to think about the World Cup also. We are so close to the World Cup, and any injury to any of your best 11 players may have a bigger impact, so that's also a bit of a concern. Till we are 100% sure about his fitness and injury, we won't risk playing him."

Leading up to the Test, over the two full training days in Centurion, Zaheer bowled only a few overs in the nets. On the first day, he only did fitness drills with Paul Close, the team physio. On the second, Zaheer manned the goalpost in a warm-up football game before a workout with Close and bowled for a bit in the nets. India didn't train on the eve of the match because it was raining in Johannesburg; at any rate they only do light training on the day before the match.

While Dhoni might not have sounded very hopeful, team sources didn't quite rule out Zaheer playing the first Test. "It is tight, but we are hopeful," is the general refrain. It is the nature of the injury - hamstring, and not picked by scans until two days ago - that makes the Indian team wary. If he risks playing, and aggravates it early on in the game, not only will he be gone for the whole Test, but for much longer, for these injuries take some time healing . If Zaheer does miss out, this will be the second such instance this year. In July, when India travelled to Sri Lanka without Zaheer, Sreesanth pulled up injured in the first training session in the country, and was sent back to India, leaving the team with Ishant Sharma and rookie Abhimanyu Mithun to share the workload on unresponsive tracks. Should Zaheer not make it, the rookie this time will be either Umesh Yadav or Jaidev Unadkat. Which begs the question of the national selectors as to where Mithun is, after he did commendably on a seam bowlers graveyard on a short notice.

However, it could be a great opportunity for one out of Unadkat and Yadav, with Unadkat being the favoured one right now by the virtue of being a left-arm medium-pacer. "We'll have to see [as to who replaces Zaheer]," Dhoni said. "Whoever plays will be making his debut whether it is Unadkat or Yadav. We will discuss with some other senior players, and accordingly pick the best possible XI."

That Dhoni discussed the prospects for a debutant made Zaheer's chances sound slimmer. "It's very important to enjoy the game rather than thinking about who you are replacing," Dhoni said, of whoever gets to play in Centurion. "Zak has done really well for us, but at the same time the guy who will be making his debut, what will be important for him will be to bowl to his strengths, what he knows the best, because of which he is a part of the international side right now. Enjoying the moment is one of the important things, rather than getting caught up with the expectation level and the pressure."

It will have to be a fast bowler to replace Zaheer because there is no way India are playing two spinners on a green pitch under overcast skies. However, Dhoni said he has seen greener tracks than the grassy, damp one that awaits them on Thursday. "Frankly speaking, when we saw the pitch yesterday it was a green track, but I don't think there was enough grass on the wicket," Dhoni said. "It is a normal Centurion wicket, which means it will assist the fast bowlers. But the greenest track I have seen in South Africa was the T20 game we played against the South Africans in the 2007 World Twenty20. I don't think this is anywhere close to the Dubran wicket that we saw then."

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • DINESH on December 16, 2010, 11:08 GMT

    Gurujeee: Absolutely you are correct. Cricket is playing in 29 States in India. Every state people expect there should be a representaiton from their State. Whereas for every series the players required are only 15 or 16. I belong to TN and I will also be happy if Badri is included in the team. But Pujara is miles ahead of Badri. Compared to Ajay Jadeja and Rohit, Uthappa is a better player. Though not in the tests, he could have included in ODIs and T20s. Similarly Rahane, S.Dhawan, Pandey are consistently performing well. But when Sehwag and Gambhir are going with great guns, these guys entry in test arena is highly difficult. For non selection of their favourite players, people commenting adversely with abusing language against Srikkanth. Considering to the previous selection committee, this committee is exceedingly performing well.

  • AJITH on December 16, 2010, 9:43 GMT

    Bring back Balaji.He could smile and get the batsmen out.

  • Guru on December 16, 2010, 9:41 GMT

    Guys...Indian selectors should be the highest paid job given the kind of pressure they have to work with. Having played cricket at some level, I understand the fact that even choosing the playing XI among the 14-15 players is a painful job which leaves 3-4 players disappointed. The fact is you cannot keep everybody happy and hence do your job with the best interest of the team and your Country. I being a Kannadiga would love to see some of my state players in the team given their performance in the last Ranji season and their current form. It is a natural wish like fans from any other state to have players from their state. But if you ask me if anybody fits into Indian test team from my side..I am not sure. I sometime feel that Vinaykumar has always got a raw deal as he along with Mithun are fantastic performers but we cannot see the thougt process that goes inside the closed door. There may be some plans which we will now know. Lets leave selectors do their job and stop abusing them.

  • Vivek on December 16, 2010, 9:18 GMT

    Please keep in mind Rosy, one should not forget Karnataka players contributions to Indian cricket ike Srinath, Kumble, Prasad, G.R.Vishwanath. Srikanth is not the person behind for at present success, Dhoni's captaincy and some good teamates led to the success.

  • Dummy4 on December 16, 2010, 9:10 GMT

    Our Selectors got very weak memory. We still have bunch of pacer/swing bowler, who can cause big impact to places like SA. Instead they choose, two new-comer. RP Singh is still very fit and effective bowler when you have favorable conditions. Munaf is not too bad, if he is fully fit. You can also give second chance to Mithun who didn't do too bad in placid track of Sri Lanka. Give him some sound advice, he can bring some old Srinath into field. RP is my pick of fourth bowler though ahead of Yadav & Unadkat.

  • Thank You on December 16, 2010, 9:02 GMT

    still raining.....maybe everyone sits this one out and we try again with a fit Zaheer during the second test. India's bench is good enough for the bushmen but nothing would feel better than a full-strength India side with zaheer humiliating the home side. Let it rain let it rain let it rain....ho ho ho.

  • DINESH on December 16, 2010, 8:53 GMT

    KVKrrish there are 100 Mcgraths 200 Wasim Akrams are in India. But what is happening you know once a player selected for India and scored a 50 or taken 3 or 4 wickets in the debut test, the people of India, entire media, Govt. both State and Central started propogating that some one has come from heaven to save the cricket and the country. Immeditely some corporate companies appoint them as branch ambassadors for their products for 1000 crores per year. Then how they will play cricket. Australians Mark Waugh and Steve Waugh's full time profession is cricket. They are not the brand ambassadors for any product. If this situation continues we will not get players in the caliber of Wasim Akram, Mcgrath, Hayden, Viv Richards, Walsh etc. and we get only players like Ravindra Jadeja, Dinesh Kaarthik , Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh etc.

  • Kean on December 16, 2010, 8:27 GMT

    James Jaganathan - wow you really are living in lala-land. What proof do you have that Khan is a better bowler than Steyn, other than your personal ramblings that is? The rankings have Steyn as better, their career averages say Steyn is better and their averages in the subcontinent definately say that Steyn is better. In Ind and Pak Steyn averages 20.2 and 24.7 (21.4 combined) while Khan averages 34.4 and 40.9 (35.1 combined). Steyn takes on average 6.3 per test with a strike rate of 40.4 while Khan only takes 3.4 wickets per test with a strike rate of 58.5.

    Khan is a very good bowler but, Steyn is better than Khan...period.

  • Alex on December 16, 2010, 7:58 GMT

    Mithun was horrible. Yes he was doing the job like machine but there was nothing special in his armoury. Plain below average. Munaf patel may be good but 5 days he won't even field. He is that bad. P kumar is good for first 10 overs , once swing gone he throw laddus.

    Where is deepak chahar? He good be great.

  • Anver on December 16, 2010, 7:56 GMT

    Indian team is gonna miss Zaheer in the 1st test bc, he's one of the trump card for India in recent times......hope he recover soon!!!!!!

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