Why is the world No. 1 side looking so listless in England? Ask anyone, an expert or an ordinary fan, and you will get one name- Zaheer Khan.
"This over dependence on Zaheer is doing India no good. He's not going to be around forever. What when he's gone?" says Manoj Prabhakar.
No one, however, seems to be thinking that far ahead. What's worse, everyone is convinced that India can't take 20 wickets to win the game without the left-arm pacer. The other bowlers, too, don't seem to think much different. The proof lies in how they go astray the moment Zaheer breaks down. Although they have responded better to the ‘calamity' this time, generally it leaves them running around like headless chicken.
They, however, can't be blamed beyond a point for giving in, for they are almost programmed into thinking they aren't good enough without their ‘bowling captain'. All they hear day in and day out from almost every quarter is how the mere presence of Zaheer lifts their spirits; how he guides them and plots dismissals standing at mid-on. Naturally, when they don't see their mentor standing at mid-on, they go weak in their knees. "Too much is made out of it. It's expected of every senior player to help out others and I think everyone does this," said Bishan Singh Bedi.
Clearly, the legend of Zaheer is causing more harm to the Indian side than the good he has done as a bowler. He's of course a fine bowler, and has played a key role in India's ascent. But then, that's about it. It's time India got comfortable with the idea of playing without Zaheer, and if the situation demands, maybe move on for good.
They can no longer afford to see him breaking down in every second series, and be in complete disarray. Besides, this sort of over dependence on any individual is a disgrace for any decent side, leave alone the World No. team.
Finally, what happens when Zaheer is declared fit after four or five months? Should he again be picked in the hope that his body will hold up? Can India risk him breaking down again in some important series, say the one against Australia in their backyard later this year?
"Absolutely not," says Bedi. "He should be made to play domestic cricket to prove his fitness. And that goes for every player who has been dropped either on form or because of injuries."