Former India bowlers Anil Kumble and Javagal Srinath stressed that Zaheer Khan's form will be crucial to India's chances of doing well in the Test series against South Africa, which starts on December 18. Zaheer, who last played a Test for India against England in December 2012, was picked for the tour of South Africa and is the most experienced bowler in a pace attack comprising Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma.
"Zaheer will be the leader," Kumble told The Hindu. "He will get reverse (swing) as well. [I] Just hope he bowls at his usual speed. He shouldn't drop his pace, shouldn't bowl within himself. It would be good if he can knock a few wickets upfront."
According to Srinath, Zaheer's effectiveness would depend on him bowling the right spells. "Strength and energy will be critical to Zaheer. As for line, length and strategies, he is a master at that," Srinath said to the newspaper. "It boils down to his core strength and [about] him coming in for the right spells and sustaining that energy. Another core area for Zaheer is the way he guides the other bowlers."
Zaheer is fourth on the list of leading wicket-takers in South Africa, behind Kumble, Srinath and Sreesanth. In six Tests, Zaheer has 23 wickets at an average of 32.52.
Kumble, the most successful Indian bowler in South Africa - with 45 wickets in 12 games - said that the spinners would have to deal with the challenge of additional bounce on the pitches and a softer, used ball.
"It does not spin much but you do get bounce from the surface," Kumble said. "The spinners have to take that into account when they set the field. The ball tends to get soft after 20 overs, so the spinners need to handle that in the middle overs. Between the grounds, there is not much at Johannesburg but Durban does a bit more. And if the game goes to the fourth and fifth day, the spinners will have a role."
Kumble added that R Ashwin, India's frontline spinner on his first tour to South Africa, could exploit the rough patches created by the follow-throughs of the pacers: "I enjoyed bowling there, bowling into the rough especially against a left-handed batsman. With Zaheer and hopefully (Lonwabo) Tsotsobe bowling (both being left-arm seamers), there will be a rough that Ashwin can exploit."
Both bowlers stressed that the Indian attack would have to get their lengths right, instead of merely relying on the bounce.
"The length has to be neither forward nor backward," Kumble said. "It has to be a length where after pitching, the height of the ball should be able to hit the knee roll of the pad and if the batsman snicks it, there is enough carry for the catch to be taken. You can't just release the ball, even if there is swing you need to hit the deck hard."