Zaheer Khan is sporting his fittest avatar in years, having undergone rigorous off-season training in South Africa and France. Add to it, the delivery just short of good length with the new ball, supplemented with subtle movement that leaves batsmen indecisive. This is apart from his second-to-none ability to reverse swing the old ball.
Given the bounce in South Africa and breeze in New Zealand, Zaheer had the perfect platform. But when it was time to set the stage alight, everything apart from his fitness fell flat. The breakthroughs with the new ball were rare and reverse swing was less prominent. Most importantly, the pace had dropped.
It prompted Rahul Dravid to question Zaheer’s future, keeping in mind the demands of a five-Test tour of England in July.
The most obvious highlight of the 35-year-old’s struggle was the failure to make the left-handed batsmen dance to his tune, like in the past. In the three innings in South Africa, he scalped Graeme Smith only once, that too after he had scored 68.
When the left-arm pacer finally dismissed five batsmen in the second innings at Wellington, it was after New Zealand had pulled off a heist. Apart from Brendon McCullum’s triple ton, Jimmy Neesham hit his maiden century to defy the visitors.
Former India all-rounder, Madan Lal, echoed Dravid’s thoughts. “He is spot on. Zak can take a call or the selectors can talk to him,” he told HT. “He got five wickets in Wellington but what was the use?”
Former chief selector, Kiran More, felt Zaheer had cricket left in him but raised doubts on his ability to last five Tests.
“Five Tests will be tough. He has cricket left in him, but the selectors must think hard. How useful can he be now?” he said.
“Perhaps, if he did not play the IPL he could have got rest and been ready for England. But he is likely to play, so we will have to see after that.”
Madan Lal insisted it was time India gave youngster opportunities. “If Umesh Yadav, Mohit Sharma and Varun Aaron do not play, they will never learn.”
But, is the inexperienced India pace attack ready for life after Zaheer?