When his first ball was fired way down the leg side, it was obvious Zaheer Khan was feeling a bit edgy. It is natural to be riddled with doubts when one is making a return to the game after undergoing a surgery. On Wednesday, Zaheer was bowling for the first time in a competitive game since he broke down at Lord’s on July 21.
The left-arm seamer is considered crucial to India’s chances in the Test series against Australia that a fully-fit Zaheer will double the team’s bowling strength.
He had been bowling in the nets for a month but he was aware that a match situation will be the real test. Zaheer would be pleased with how things went on the first day. Opening the Mumbai bowling in the Ranji Trophy tie against Orissa, he struck with his fifth delivery and bowled six overs on the trot, finishing the day with a wicket for 20 runs. Fellow pacers Dhawal Kulkarni (4) and Aavishkar Salve (2) took over from there to leave Orissa reeling at stumps.
The start will do his confidence a world of good. His body is used to the kind of workload he had in Wednesday’s six-over spell, but the litmus test of his fitness will be how he copes with the third and fourth spells.
The chief examiners were out there, national selector, Surendra Bhave, and India physio Ashish Kaushik.
The verdict that Zaheer was looking to hear desperately came. “Well bowled, Zak”, said Kaushik, as the bowler walked back at stumps. The national selector was watching from the scorer’s box and was overheard saying, “he looked good.”
Zaheer started erratically with most deliveries drifting towards the leg stump. But importantly, he got a wicket that proved the catalyst for the spell. It was the first ball he had managed to pitch on target. Orissa opener, Bikas Pati, pushed at the length delivery on off-stump to offer a comfortable catch to Suryakumar Yadav at gully.
In his third over, he switched to round the wicket and settled into a better line. He largely bowled within himself, and was getting the shape of the ball but not enough to trouble the batsmen. The movement became more pronounced towards the end of his spell.
His spell proved he has recovered from the ankle surgery. Now it is about his fitness level.
Mumbai coach Sulakshan Kulkarni said Zaheer will take a lot of heart from the day’s play. “A new ball bowler’s first spell is generally of six overs and Zaheer bowled the 36 balls at a stretch with ease. He was in good rhythm, and most importantly picked up a wicket.”