October 08, 1978, Shrirampur, Maharashtra
Right hand bat
Left arm fast medium
Zaheer Khan is an Indian fast bowler with all the traits that made the Pakistani fast bowlers a phenomenon. He swings the new ball and reverses the old, he does well on flat subcontinent pitches and relishes the helpful ones away, and he controls all three balls well - SG, Duke and Kookaburra. He might not quite have the skills of Wasim Akram, who he has often been compared to, but mentally Zaheer has become as good as Akram. He knows how to get wickets, he has an intuitive sense of when to go for the kill, and once a batsman has shown him the slightest hint of a weakness, Zaheer preys on it ruthlessly. Unlike the Pakistan fast bowlers of the 2000s, though, he stays away from controversy and is pretty low-key off the field.
Zaheer's career can be easily divided into three distinct sections, neatly segregated by injuries. He was all promise ever since he bowled Steve Waugh with a full delivery in the Champions Trophy in 2000. A mysterious injury in Australia in 2003-04 - hamstring at first and later discovered to be a nerve twitch - then tortured him for the best part of the next two years. Every comeback ended in a frustrating setback through a new injury.
In 2006, though, Zaheer, now with a shorter run up, a fitter body and a meaner mind, dazzled England with 78 wickets for Worcestershire, where team-mates started calling him 'Zippy Zakky'. He was the perfect foil for Sreesanth in South Africa, and he then regained his status as leader of the pack with a match-winning display at Trent Bridge, as India won only their fifth Test on English soil. The new, lethal Zaheer was not only the leader of the Indian attack, he was one of the best in the world. With his guidance, India claimed the No. 1 ranking in Tests and the World Cup in 2011, which he called "my greatest cricketing moment."
Zaheer was seen as a vital resource ahead of a lengthy Test season comprising a four-Test tour of England and then a four-Test tour of Australia in 2011-12. But a hamstring injury on the very first day led to India losing one of their premier match-winners, and also every one of those matches. It wasn't until Zaheer's return for the Johannesburg Test against South Africa that India could stem their run of Test losses overseas. At 35 years, he still had all the tricks but his pace was down and he looked rather spent even while playing the second of back-to-back Tests in Durban.
There was no doubting how much Zaheer prized Test cricket though. He took a five-for in what became his final Test - the same one in which Brendon McCullum hit a triple ton - and ended his career with 311 Test wickets, second only to Kapil Dev among Indian fast bowlers.
Zaheer continues to do his bit in the IPL though. He was bought by Delhi Daredevils for INR 4 crores in 2015 and he was named their captain in 2016.
Sidharth Monga and ESPNcricinfo staff
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