Season 2007-08: Missed seven Tests due to ankle injury; 2010: Missed three due to shoulder injury; 2010-11: Missed two due to groin strain and hamstring injury; 2011: Missed three due to ankle injury rehab; 2011-12: Missed seven Tests due to hamstring injury and ankle surgery. Zaheer Khan has missed nearly one in three Tests India have played in the last five seasons.
The left-arm pacer’s career is at the crossroads. He will face the biggest test of his career when he turns out for Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy tie against Orissa starting here on Tuesday. How the 33-year-old fares in the two innings game will determine his immediate future with the India team.
At the same time in the same city, India will be locked in the ODI duel with West Indies. But looking at the larger picture, the team management will be keenly following the Ranji game being played at the DRIMS Sports Complex, Tangi, on the outskirts of Cuttack. The pace spearhead's fitness will determine how strong India's bowling attack will be in Australia.
Out of cricket since he broke down on the opening day of the Test series in England in July, the Orissa game will not be about Zaheer’s skills or form. Kris Srikkanth & Co is also sure that the first and second spells will be fine. The main test will be how his body copes with the third and fourth spells. It was in the third spell that he broke down at Lord's. India never recovered from that setback suffered on the first day of the series.
Zaheer has been bowling for four weeks now, regularly doing six-over spells. He bowled in the Mumbai Ranji team nets and the India nets before the final Test. His teammates, who faced him, give him the thumbs up.
Skipper MS Dhoni said on Saturday: “From what we saw at the nets he seemed to have regained full fitness. Let him play in the Ranji matches. That will give him an opportunity to test himself. I hope he is fit for Australia."
The morning flight from Mumbai was delayed by nearly 90 minutes, causing him to miss practice, but Zaheer sounded upbeat as he tweeted while waiting at the Mumbai airport: “I remember, played a Duleep Trophy match in Cuttack before my comeback to Indian side in 2006 as well. Excited about joining (the) Mumbai Ranji team, game starts tomorrow...”
The wicket is expected to have decent bounce and he is also one short of 150 Ranji wickets. But there will be nervousness. The right ankle has been his biggest worry. Even the hamstring injury was related to the problem. It was an alignment issue related to the ankle bone; whenever it was not aligned properly on landing, his hamstring would bear the brunt. The same injury had flared up during the World Cup and he had played with his hamstring strapped. Now, with the ankle surgery done, he is looking forward to running in and bowling without having to worry about his hamstring.
If all goes well, he is expected to get a yard quicker as well.