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Running silent, running true

cricket Updated: Aug 16, 2008 01:22 IST
Anand Vasu
Anand Vasu
Hindustan Times
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As the tempo shifts from the Tests to 50-overs a side, some 35,000 Test runs have headed back home to India in the form of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly.

In their place come new faces, fresh legs and young cricketers trying to make a mark. One strong thread remains between the two, and that’s Zaheer Khan, whose role still remains crucial. Zaheer’s figures in the series are less than flattering, but, to be fair, to him, his performances have been strong, sincere and mature.

Although he got through a spell of moderate success with the Bangalore IPL team, the heel injury that has plagued him, flared up and he was forced to miss the tri-series in Bangladesh and the Asia Cup.

In a way this worked out well for Zaheer as he underwent extensive physical rehabilitation at the NCA, where Anil Kumble was also at hand to witness the work Zaheer had put in.

Sufficiently impressed, Kumble backed Zaheer for the Sri Lanka Tests, even though Nitin Patel, the physio, recommended that Zaheer play a couple of matches before that. Zaheer repaid the faith Kumble had placed in him, providing early breakthroughs and bowling more overs than you would expect from a strike bowler. He totalled 92 overs for 8 wickets, but you have to look past the numbers for a moment.

Ishant Sharma bowled with genuine pace and fire, but it was Zaheer as the experienced war-horse who set the tone. While Zaheer has always had the ability to bowl genuinely wicket-taking deliveries, he has not always been a thorough professional.

His weight had been up and down and his fitness levels, not always high. Being dropped sent Zaheer to county cricket and it was there that a transformation occurred. Today, no one can accuse him of not putting in the hard yards.

If proof was needed that Zaheer was a changed man, it came in the final Test, when Ishant keeled over with a glut (buttock) injury. With Ishant hobbling off the park, India had lost a quarter of their bowling options.

Zaheer then had to bowl for more than one person and he did so admirably. Sometimes bowling spells as long as eight overs, Zaheer had to strike a balance between conserving runs and prising out wickets. It was here that his experience came to the fore.

If that did not convince you that Zaheer had now graduated to being one of the senior members of the team, it came when Zaheer fashioned a 51-run last-wicket partnership with Ishant, thoroughly embarrassing the batsmen who came before him and failed quite comprehensively.

Although Mahendra Singh Dhoni has a few fast bowling options to choose from in the ODIs, India need a strong performance from Zaheer.

Already acclimatised, Zaheer will take the new ball and the tone for India’s bowling effort. In Sri Lanka, where scores in ODIs are often on the lower side, how a team starts off can prove to be crucial.