Zaheer Khan's follow-through says everything about his state of mind these days. There is almost no follow-through. Bowlers usually wind down to a halt with a jog; he walks up to the batsman almost immediately after release, even as the batsman is reacting to the delivery, almost telling him, 'I will be in your face ball after ball, over after over, spell after spell'. It appears that personal.
There was almost no follow-through today, a day on which he wasn't merely all over Bangladesh, he owned them. His final spell read: Nine deliveries, four wickets, no run. It was a brief spell whose menace wasn't in the velocity of the deliveries but in the way he caught Bangladesh off guard with the claustrophobic accuracy of his reverse swing. Bangladesh weren't in a frame of mind to handle that kind of heat. He swung it in and out, bowling from wide of the crease and from close to the stumps. And always, he operated from round the stumps.
"It was reverse swinging, the wicket was slow and I thought it would be better to bowl round the stumps," Zaheer explained. Raqibul Hasan chose to shoulder arms and invited disaster in, Mahmudullah was taken out by the one that left him, and by the time Shafiul Islam and Rubel Hossain came out to bat, it didn't matter what he bowled; you felt a wicket was just a ball away.
It was a very good spell but the batting didn't match the quality. In fact, Zaheer's bowling late last evening was even better. His battle with the well-set and immensely focused Tamim Iqbal was fascinating. He searched for a weakness from over and round the stumps, from changes in length, from changes in trajectory and pace, but Tamim stood firm. However, Zaheer persisted with his aggressive patience and eventually cracked Tamim's resolve with a delivery that veered away late.
"Lot of things come with experience," Zaheer said while talking about his ability to reverse swing. "The time away from international cricket helped me to work on things. The injuries then worked in my favour."
The journey has been long and arduous. He always had the verbals and the stare but he wasn't walking the talk then. People remember the hammering he took from Matthew Hayden and Ricky Ponting in the 2003 World Cup final when the boy was taught a few lessons in life from grown-up men. His transformation to a complete thinking bowler has been a well-documented event, from his 2006 life-changing stint in county cricket to his performances against England and Australia.
This performance in Dhaka against Bangladesh might not mean much but it's a little big moment in his career timeline, his first ten-wicket haul in his tenth year in international cricket. It has taken a while in coming and obviously Zaheer was pleased: "This was my first. It feels very good."
In comparison, Kapil Dev had two ten-wicket hauls and 23 five-fors, Javagal Srinath ten five-wicket grabs and one ten-for. Zaheer currently has nine five-wicket hauls. The journey ahead will depend on his fitness. "I am working hard on it with my trainer. That's my focus, to get fitter. With my injury it was important for me to get back into rhythm as soon as possible."
He achieved that today with a fine effort. Things initially didn't seem to go in his favour when Shahadat Hossain and Mohammad Ashraful were batting but then in a blink, everything changed."Once it started to reverse I knew …" He didn't finish the thought; he didn't have to. You knew he had started his meditation. "It's the same way a batsman feels. You kind of go into a zone and relax. You are in control of mind and body. My mind and body gets in complete sync in those moments." And he starts that walk, almost a swagger, towards the batsman.