Zaheer Khan should never get into the hotel business. Say “room” and he says, “won’t give it.”
“No room” is the 28-year-old left-arm seamer’s mantra going into the World Cup, especially since the wickets there are expected to be slow.
“Wherever you play, you can’t give batsmen width in one-day cricket,” Zaheer told HT on Saturday while glugging juice and ordering a snack at an ocean front hotel in the city’s Bandra area.
“I’ve heard some wickets have been relaid in the West Indies. I will find out how they play only when I get there. But till then my game plan is to bowl tight and to situational line and length.”
A hamstring injury and perceived attitude problems kept Zaheer out of the Indian team for most of 2006. Like in the case of Sourav Ganguly, the experience fanned his motivational fires.
Often a target of weight-related criticism, Zaheer signed on for Worcestershire in English county cricket and sharpened both, his body and his bowling. The performance earned him a national recall.
Zaheer has done well after returning to the Indian team for the tour of South Africa. In 10 One-day Internationals since, he has taken 17 wickets at 23.58 runs apiece, the highlight being the 5-42 against Sri Lanka in Goa.
He also did a sound job in Tests and the Ranji Trophy final, which he played for eventual champions Mumbai. No wonder he said on Saturday, “I’m confident. Rhythm wise, I’m at my best now.”
Excerpts from the interview:
You leave for the West Indies on February 28. What are you up to these last few pre-departure days?
Busy taking “active rest”. I work out in the gym but nothing more. I’m giving my shoulder a break, because the season’s been long. I’ve bowled a lot of overs. I’ll have a couple of bowling sessions before I leave. But now the focus is on recovery.
How’ll your responsibility change in case Irfan Pathan doesn’t make the cut?
I shouldn’t be commenting on that. The concerned people are dealing with it. I’m just enjoying the break and looking forward to the World Cup.
You gave away 15 runs in the first over of the last World Cup final. How did that over impact your career?
It was the final. We were fired up and trying to give that extra bit. I got carried away a little. But it’s history now. Four years have passed and I have learnt a lot. It’s important to look ahead now. There’s a new World Cup coming up.
It’s the second one of your career…
Yes. It’s exciting. I’m proud to be playing my second World Cup for India. At the same time, there’s a sense of responsibility. Being an experienced campaigner, I have added responsibility on my shoulders. I have to provide early breakthroughs.
What did you learn about yourself when you were out of the Indian team?
That I must keep playing and not give myself a break. That was what was happening when I was out of the team. I kept getting injured. I wasn’t getting any momentum. I would bowl a bit, get my rhythm back and break down again. Now I have a lot of overs under my belt. I’m confident. Rhythm wise I feel at my best.
Did the experience improve your approach to fitness?
Well, I was doing everything to stay fit. But what do you do if you get injured? You have to deal with the injury.
There was some criticism about the scheduling of the One-dayers against West Indies and Sri Lanka before the World Cup. But in some ways they were to India’s benefit, weren’t they?
I didn’t mind them because I enjoy playing matches. The more matches I play, the better I feel. It helps my body, my rhythm. Like I said earlier, I don’t like to give myself a long break. The matches have also been good for the team. We performed, which put us in positive frame of mind going into the World Cup.
What do you make of Australia’s slide?
Any team can do well on a given day. We’ve seen setbacks in the World Cup too. Smaller teams have beaten powerful teams. It happens.