Monday, August 26, 2013

Reviving the Wizardry in Zaheer Khan

By Carl Jaison:

The current selection committee received overwhelming credits for their policy of “non-appeasement of senior pros” and their bold decision-making mechanism by which the erstwhile bench-warmers are now on the field representing their nation. The Sandip Patil led panel dismissed traditional yardsticks for selection, instead applying their own wisdom and chose players on the basis of current performance which was then reflected in India’s sensational success in world cricket in the last couple of months.

However, there seems to be a revival of old ideas and methodology stemming from the news which broke out recently that Zaheer Khan was in contention for a place in the South Africa series. While Zaheer Khan is unquestionably India’s leading pace bowler, his current form isn’t something he can brag about.

Based on hints from BCCI sources, it seems pertinent that Zaheer Khan will be monitored closely for the crucial overseas tour against the Rainbow nation. But what goes against his possible comeback is that the Mumbai-born pacer has been out of competitive action for quite some time now - he last played a test match for India in December 2012 against England. Though he did make an appearance in a handful of IPL games, his returns weren’t satisfactory.

When a player has been dropped from the national team owing to poor form, it is important that he rediscovers himself playing for his state or club team. In the case of Zaheer, his past achievements playing against South Africa provides him with a golden opportunity to make a glorious return to Indian cricket. But without any assessment of his fitness or skills, it is indeed foolhardy to select a rusty Zaheer Khan. Additionally, his selection would mean that a young, aspiring speedster will have to warm the benches yet again.

Robbing a rookie-pacer off an opportunity to make an impact on pace-friendly pitches is undoubtedly something that the team management should avoid doing. To make matters more interesting, the success of young left-arm seamer Ishwar Pandey in the ongoing practice matches in South Africa, has come as a boon to the bowling attack. Moreover, Zaheer has always struggled even with minor niggles and injuries and on quite a few occasions has had to leave a tour midway.

Zaheer’s omission from India’s current scheme of things has been largely attributed to Dhoni, who is no longer in happy terms with most of the senior pros according to the grapevine. For a captain like Dhoni to repose faith in a worn-out Zaheer would mean asking too much as the former has been known for promoting young cricketers at the cost of stalwarts.

Zaheer’s fielding ability is also a cause of concern for the team’s think-tank. Barring Ishant Sharma and Ashwin, India possesses a top-notch fielding unit which is arguably the best around. In such a scenario, it would be almost impossible for Zaheer to stake his claim as he has time and again failed miserably in this area. In Dhoni’s words, Zaheer may turn out to be a “liability” on the field.

However, all is not lost for one of India’s best exponents of reverse swing bowling. Zaheer is in that stage of his career in which a sudden turn of luck can build up his morale and confidence. For that he needs to toil hard in the nets and at the same time ensure that he remains immune to minor injuries. A lot will depend on his fitness levels which will be put to test when he plays in the domestic matches. Most importantly, the South African captain Graeme Smith will be hoping that Zaheer’s comeback is delayed by another couple of months as the former has a history of being dismissed by the latter.

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