Rahul Dravid finally had something different to say in public. Having whined about his IPL team's miseries over the past month or so, the Bangalore captain had some nice words for his city and country teammate Zaheer Khan.
Dravid handed over a hard-bound copy of the 145th edition of the Wisden Cricketers Almanac 2008 to Zaheer, one of the five Cricketers of the Year, for his exploits in England last year. Zaheer snapped 18 wickets in the three-Test series for the Pataudi Trophy and helped India win 1-0. Dravid arrived for the brief function at the hotel where IPL teams are being put up at and waited for 10 minutes, flipping through a variety of cricket books in his bag until Zaheer arrived.
"This award means a lot to me," Zaheer said. "It was a reflection of how it has gone for me last year."
Zaheer admitted he hardly read books, and definitely not books on sport. But he did say that he read Dennis Lillee's The Art of Fast Bowling when he started playing in 1996. Dravid couldn't remember how he had collected his copy of the almanac when he was named in the elite quintet in 2000 but wished Zaheer an injury-free career as India's bowling spearhead.
Recalling Zaheer's achievements in the Trent Bridge Test (the series' second which India won by seven wickets with Zaheer picking up nine in the match,) Dravid said: “Zaheer's performance in England and the whole of last year was truly exceptional. We won the Trent Bridge Test largely due to Zaheer's bowling.
“As a captain, it was very critical to take control of the game. We were on a knife's edge. England were just behind and riding on Michael Vaughan's hundred in the second innings. We knew it was going to be tough to chase 150 or 160 and we knew someone had to respond. I took the new ball and gave it to Zaheer. He took three wickets with it and we won the match (chasing 73). You needed a leader in the bowling department and Zaheer just did it for us. Wisden's is a just reward for him, who had to work really hard. Indian cricket's success depends on how well Zaheer does. After Javagal Srinath, he has taken the mantle to lead the Indian pace bowling department. He has more responsibility in the coming years," he said.
Zaheer accepted that he was nervous on the first day of the first Test at Lord's. But then things fell in place, for Zaheer and for India.
Another of Dravid's Bangalore IPL team-mate, Jacques Kallis, was named Leading Cricketer in the World for 2007. Kallis has not lived up to his reputation in this meet but Zaheer was till his team's eighth match, the IPL's leading wicket-taker at 13. He is now fifth.