Zaheer thankful for second chance
A bruised heel prompted Zaheer Khan to be rested from India's victorious World Twenty20 campaign two years ago in South Africa. In this year's tournament, however, he was simply relieved that lightning hadn't struck twice, saying his recovery from the shoulder injury he sustained during the IPL had been a "narrow escape".
On Wednesday night at Trent Bridge, Zaheer was in full flight. His opponents may only have been Ireland but he ran in off a full run-up, bowled at a brisk pace and moved the ball both ways. His opening spell squashed any hopes Ireland harboured of upsetting the world champions. Zaheer cut Ireland opener Jeremy Bray in half with an inswinger to the left-hander before shattering the stumps with a yorker next ball. He then had William Porterfield and Andre Botha edging length deliveries to Yusuf Pathan at slip before returning in the penultimate over to induce an edge from Andrew White.
"It is good to be a part of the World Cup," Zaheer said after his performance. "It was unfortunate that I opted out of the last [Twenty20] World Cup. But that was the right decision at that moment and I am happy to be a part of the team this time."
He nearly wasn't. Zaheer fell hard on his shoulder while fielding during the Mumbai Indians' match against Royal Challengers in May and missed the rest of the Twenty20 tournament. He sat out the World Twenty20 warm-up matches against New Zealand and Pakistan, and eased back into action in India's first group match against Bangladesh, taking 1 for 26 in three overs. He was seen nursing his shoulder with ice packs during practice sessions too.
"It was a narrow escape for me. It could have been worse," Zaheer said. "I was lucky to get away with just four weeks [of being out of the game]. When I fell [during the IPL], I was a bit scared until the scan results were out as to whether the injury was serious or not. Once the scan results were out I was pretty confident. The good thing is that there is nothing major, no [damage] to the shoulder which is a good thing."
Zaheer has worked hard to make a comeback, focusing on workouts to strengthen his shoulder and despite saying he "felt 100%" during the mid-innings break, he knew that some more work needed to be done. He finished the night with 4 for 19, a spell that won him the Player-of-the-Match award. "This was the second game for me and it was important that I pick up some wickets. I have definitely gained a lot of confidence from this performance."
Whether the IPL has been a boon or bane for teams heading into the World Twenty20 has been a frequently asked question. Most of the players who participated in the tournament in South Africa rave about its benefits. There are those who disagree. Within the Indian team itself there are examples of the beneficial and detrimental effects of the IPL. The injury to Virender Sehwag has deprived the team of its regular opener, and another nearly cost them their best bowler. However, the tournament also helped India find a replacement for the void created by Sehwag's absence. "It has definitely helped players," Zaheer said. "You see someone like Rohit Sharma, the kind of form he is in. It is good that we have been playing the Twenty20 format for the last five weeks. It has definitely helped us."
Zaheer will face a sterner test when India take on West Indies at Lord's in their first Super Eight game. He has his sights set on knocking over their most dangerous player, Chris Gayle.
George Binoy is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo