Cricket has sometimes been cruel to Zaheer Khan. He has often run into rough weather in his six-year career, having missed matches because of injuries and of late because of non-performance.
The 27-year-old from Baroda, who returned to the Indian team on its tour to Pakistan this year following fabulous performances for Baroda and West Zone only to find himself dropped again, told HT that he has to keep proving himself again and again to win the confidence of the selectors.
Excerpts from this telephonic chat with Zaheer in Worcestershire:
Having been in the news recently for nine wickets in an innings against Essex, how do you think this effort will help to resurrect your international career?
So far, this season has been very good for me. I’ve picked up 42 wickets in seven Championship matches and the confidence level is very high. I am bowling well and am very happy with the way things are going. Performance is what matters. I am focussed on doing things that are in my hands. The whole idea of playing county cricket was to improve my cricket as it is off-season in India.
What have been the gains from your county experience?
I have been bowling a lot, playing cricket five days a week. It is a new learning experience for me, to live on your own in a different country and managing everything on your own. I get to play on different kinds of wickets and that is helping me a lot. I have regained my bowling fitness and match fitness. The rhythm is also back.
What does a county expect from an overseas professional?
Cricket is ultimately a team game. Worcestershire are a mix of English and Asian players. There is Vikram Solanki, Kabir Ali, the experience of Graeme Hick and also Gareth Batty, the off-spinner who toured India for the ODIs this year. It is a good mix and the county expects you to gel with the team. You have to mix with the players. It is a professional set up. The number of matches we play, the amount of travelling and the time we spend together with young players. It is interesting.
Having played in England before with the Indian team must have made it easier for you now.
I’m familiar with the conditions and the pitches here. Touring England with the Indian team in 2002 was the high point of my career. It was very memorable as I picked up a lot of wickets.
What improvements have you made since you last played for India?
Improvement is in terms of bowling a lot of overs and regaining my match fitness. Overall I am in a much better shape. I am picking up wickets and that has increased my confidence.
Why do fast bowlers keep breaking down despite the availability of the support staff? The glaring examples being of Nehra, Balaji and yourself.
On the whole fast bowling is a tough job. Physically it is very demanding. Obviously, down the line you have to take care of yourself, monitor how much workload you can take. Each individual is different and you have to analyse what works for you and what doesn't.
The selectors are looking at grooming young fast bowlers for the future. Do you see yourself playing for India again?
Performance is the key. The selectors will keep faith in you if you perform well and consistently. Ultimately for me, I have to keep performing and take wickets. If I do that, I will get a chance. Age is no bar.
Do you think India should expand its pool of fast bowlers so that there is no dearth at the highest level?
I think we are in that process now. If you look at the bigger picture, it is a good thing for the team to have so many fast bowlers coming up. You know who can perform and that is a good thing for the team.
You must have set sights on 2007 World Cup, particularly after the last one did not go well for you and the team in the final.
The last World Cup was special for me and the team. Any cricketer’s dream is to play at the highest level and be part of the World Cup winning squad. I am doing just about everything I can to be there in the reckoning. You cannot be so sure of what is in store for you. I will stay focussed. If I am part of the team, I will try to give my best as I’ve always done. I am in the process of proving myself all over again because in this level, one has to keep proving himself time and again.