'Can't afford a 50% fit Zaheer in Australia' - Ganguly

Zaheer Khan is pumped up after Michael Vaughan's wicket Getty Images

Sourav Ganguly, the former India captain, has said Zaheer Khan, India's spearhead, must continue to work on his fitness before the start of the Test series in Australia. Zaheer was out of cricket between August and November due to injury, and was conditionally selected for the Australia series that begins with the Boxing Day Test.

"I feel that Zaheer is still not 100% fit and we can't afford to have a 50% fit Zaheer Khan in Australia," Ganguly said during an event in Delhi. "For India, Zaheer still needs to play a lot more matches and for that he needs to be fully fit. One Ranji Trophy game is not enough.

"There are still [some] days left [before the Tests] and I believe he will play another Ranji game as well as two practice matches in Australia. The BCCI has planned his schedule well, unlike ten years ago when I had to appear for a fitness test only ten days prior to an important tour."

Zaheer had injured his right hamstring on the first day of the England-India Test series this summer, before a recurring ankle injury re-surfaced later during the tour, forcing Zaheer out of the series. He underwent ankle surgery and made a return to competitive cricket on November 29, when he played a Ranji Trophy match for Mumbai in Cuttack. He bowled 22 overs in the match, over two innings, and took four wickets.

Ganguly also said R Ashwin, the offspinner who took 22 wickets in his debut Test series, against West Indies, will face a much tougher challenge in Australia. "Ashwin is a gifted cricketer. But bowling in India with SG balls against an inconsistent West Indies batting line-up is completely different from bowling with Kookaburra balls. Also the quality of batsmanship will certainly be higher [in Australia]."

India faced another injury setback with medium-pacer Praveen Kumar being ruled out of the Tests in Australia earlier this week because of a fractured rib. His replacement will be named on December 5, and Ganguly said the decision should be carefully weighed.

"We should have a good young pacer whoever it is. As far as Irfan [Pathan] is concerned, I have heard that he is bowling well [in the Ranji Trophy] but my question would be whether he is good enough to get into the team on his bowling alone.

"Ashish [Nehra] is also getting wickets which is a good sign. I don't think that not being centrally contracted [Nehra was not in the BCCI's list of centrally contracted players released in October] is an issue. He is only 32 and can still play for India for some time."

Ganguly scored his first first-class century in two years this week, for Bengal against Haryana in the Ranji Trophy. The four-day match, though, ended in a draw. With draws in the tournament not being uncommon, Ganguly said its structure could do with a review. "I know there are times when the second innings becomes immaterial. Certainly we need to look at the possibility of whether we can make it a five-day affair."