Yuvraj Singh and Zaheer Khan react after losing third Test match against England at Eden Gardens in Kolkata. PTI/Ashok Bhaumik
As the spearhead of the attack, the body language was strangely subdued. Zaheer Khan has looked a shadow of his former self in this series and on Sunday became the biggest casualty of India's stunning debacle against England at home.
With three wickets in the first two Tests, the left-arm pacer had left himself vulnerable. But what seems to have convinced the selectors to finally wield the axe was his ineffective showing at the Eden Gardens. Along with Yuvraj Singh and Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer was dropped for the fourth Test. Their view | They Say
On the abrasive Kolkata surface, reverse swing was to be a big weapon. And when Jimmy Anderson used it effectively to restrict India on the opening day, naturally, the home camp's expectations increased. For, in his halcyon days, no one was better at executing the art than Zaheer.
Since, his comeback to the team in 2006-07, he had given India the edge, especially on the flat tracks of the sub-continent and played a big role in helping reach the No 1 Test ranking.
But, when he was outshone by his England counterpart in his patented art, it was an indication for the Sandeep Patil-led committee that their champion bowler was past his prime.
The third Test became a kind of direct contest between Anderson and Zaheer.
The England seamer turned the game decisively in favour of his team with returns of 28-7-89-3 and 15.4-4-38-3 in the two innings while Zaheer had one wicket to show for in 31 overs.
Never counted among the agile fielders, it didn't help the left-arm pacer's cause that he had looked even more stiffer and slower while moving around in the field.
While the selectors have been forced to take the call, it has not been an easy decision.
It means, in the fourth Test India will be without the experience of 88 Tests and 295 wickets that Zaheer brought to the team.
More importantly, he also played the role of mentor to the emerging pace bowlers, a fact which the likes of Umesh Yadav openly vouch for.
No clue at all
Even skipper MS Dhoni was at a loss of words to explain the slump of his spearhead.
“Why he isn't effective? Maybe, the batsmen are playing him better. From behind, it looks he is bowling in the right area. Bowlers go through a phase when they don't get
wickets,” said Dhoni
“Maybe this is a phase for him. He is still bowling quite the same, swinging the ball both ways. As far as fitness is concerned, he has been the way he is for the last few years. Definitely, he isn't unfit,” added the skipper.
At 34, it won't be easy for Zaheer to make a comeback. Already struggling with a transition in the batting line-up, his exit has added to the pressure on the India team.
For India's GenNext, Zaheer's will be some shoes to fill.