“I think there’s no need to say anything about Zaheer’s bowling,” said Ishant Sharma with the best of intentions.
What the young tyro, who Sir Richard Hadlee recently described as among the most exciting young talents in cricket, meant was that Zaheer was a proven performer and there was little he could add in praise. Few things could be further from the truth.
If anything, too little has been said about Zaheer in recent times. On a day when Zaheer had 5 for 65 and Mahendra Singh Dhoni took six catches, the most by an Indian in a Test innings, one of the two should have been put forth to talk about the day’s play.
Ideally, Zaheer could have taken the opportunity to speak about how he picked up a second five-for in Wellington, aside from achieving the feat in Bangalore, Nottingham, Dhaka, Brisbane and Hamilton.
Perhaps he would have been able to explain how he harnessed the ever-changing wind at the Basin Reserve.
Ross Taylor, who had to face Zaheer, said that it felt like Zaheer “had an extra yard of pace” but upon looking at the speed gun readings nothing was any different.
Certainly Zaheer’s consistency has shown that while Ishant is a fine prospect, he remains just that at the moment, and it could be a few years before he learns more about his craft.
Zaheer, on the contrary, is at the peak of his powers, bowling with control and aggression. That Dhoni gives Zaheer the freedom (and responsibility) to devise traps for batsmen and set fields accordingly, is an added bonus.
From the time he made his debut in Dhaka nine years ago, Zaheer has been a bowler who has relied on setting up batsmen to pick up wickets. He does not possess a natural outswinger like a Kapil Dev, well disguised slower deliveries like Venkatesh Prasad or a viciously reversing inducker like Manoj Prabhakar.
What Zaheer has is the ability to bowl all these deliveries with good control. Since his comeback to the team in 2006 Zaheer has backed up natural ability with an intelligent approach to wicket-taking.
As the senior in the fast bowling set up and the most penetrative of the lot, he was rightfully given the preference of ends and had the wind at his back more often than not.
That he made full use of this privilege was well backed up by the other bowlers. The workload on Ishant Sharma and Munaf Patel bowling into the wind was considerably eased by Harbhajan Singh bowling 23 overs on the trot from the Southern End.
Harbhajan had said that it was not about picking up five-wicket hauls, but rather contributing to the team’s cause. On the day he did so manfully, even as Zaheer bagged the glory.