Zaheer Khan's long-term coach, Sudhir Naik, is not very optimistic about the pacer making a comeback for India. Speaking to Mid-Day following Zaheer's exclusion from the India squad for the England Tests, Naik said he does not think the selectors will consider him for national duty in future.
Zaheer had injured his back while playing in the IPL for Mumbai Indians. Following a visit to London for treatment, he is now back home, in Mumbai.
His only chance of being recalled, Naik said, was if the group of younger bowlers selected for the England tour failed "miserably". "I don't think the selectors will consider Zaheer again. It will be very, very difficult for Zaheer to make a comeback into the Indian team," Naik said. "The only possibility is if the younger lot of pace bowlers selected fail miserably. Then, the selectors might consider Zaheer again. Otherwise, there is no chance."
The BCCI had not specified why Zaheer had been left out of the 18-man squad that included six pacers in Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Ishwar Pandey, Ishant Sharma, Varun Aaron and Pankaj Singh - whether it was due to his injury or whether he had been dropped. Naik said in his opinion it was because of doubts over whether Zaheer could last the duration of the five-Test series.
"Although he would be fit for the Test series, the selectors would not like to take a risk with Zaheer's fitness," he said. "Their major concern would have been whether he could last for the full series. So, that is why they did not select him."
Zaheer, 35, is currently fourth on India's wicket charts, with 311 scalps from 92 matches. The previous time India went to England, in 2011, Zaheer's hamstring gave way on the first day of the first Test, and that set the tone for a disastrous series for the visitors. Thereafter his fitness remained a talking point and his form fell away, culminating in him being dropped during the home Tests against England in December 2012.
In his time away from the national team, he underwent rigorous fitness training in France with Yuvraj Singh, and returned looking in much better shape. He was recalled for the South Africa tour in December last year. In the New Zealand series that followed, he further dispelled the worries over his fitness when he bowled extended spells - 107 overs over two Tests. However, the latest injury will not be easily overcome, Naik said.
"His dream was to complete 100 Tests and then retire. But I guess now that will not happen. I was confident that he could achieve his goal when he returned to full fitness after a nearly one-year injury lay-off. But unfortunately, this injury has practically ended his international career. There are only 25% chances of him making a comeback now."