NEW DELHI: He started late but was quick to learn the nuances without ever ignoring the basics. Zaheer Khan, promoted in his early stages by Javagal Srinath, has come a long way from the time he left Shrirampur in Maharashtra, to pursue his love for cricket.
Arriving in Mumbai on the strength of his father’s unstinted support, Zaheer found an understanding coach in Sudhir Naik. Some hard work and then life changed for this left-arm medium-fast bowler.
Eight years down the line, he smiles as he reflects on his career — 178 wickets from 56 Tests and 210 wickets from 149 ODIs. “It is very different now. I was excited about playing for Mumbai and then for India. The first year was exciting and confusing both. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be an engineer or a cricketer.
“The initial response was not encouraging but towards the end of the season I found a place in the Mumbai squad. From my team in Shrirampur to a spot in the Mumbai team,” remembered Zaheer.
The next two years were tough but he knew where his future lay. MRF Pace Foundation coach T.A. Sekar, Srinath, Naik, they all played their roles in shaping Zaheer’s career. In Sourav Ganguly, he found a man willing to push his case. Dreams turned into reality and Zaheer emerged the spearhead of the Indian attack.Biggest challenge
“The biggest challenge was in understanding the game,” said Zaheer on a recent visit to Delhi. “I had no cricketing background. I learnt the dressing room ethics, on field ethics and I was happy I was in Mumbai where all the time and everywhere people talk cricket. I learnt quickly and I learnt a lot.”
Zaheer shared the dressing room with some of the legends, observed them from close, and imbibed their qualities. “I learnt how to prepare for the game and how much to train. Playing with Srinath was an experience. He taught me how to work on action, how to overcome the no-ball problem, how to preserve for important spells, how to read the batsmen.”
All those lessons have come in handy as his career developed. He has lasted the journey that started with Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad, down to bowling in the company of S. Sreesanth or Munaf Patel. He has held his place even though critics have pointed out the inconsistency factor in his bowling.Getting better
With time Zaheer accepted his role of a senior and led the way. He worked on his trade and skills, the slower one, the yorker, the away swinger, and the one that jagged in. He was enjoying it.
He troubled most of the batsmen on the recent Sri Lankan tour., ending up with eight wickets in three Tests and nine in five ODIs. He was the Man-of-the-Match in the second one-dayer at Dambulla.
The support staff was a big help, said Zaheer. “Having a bowling coach was the best thing we could have asked for. Analysis is important and needs to be done regularly. There are times you tend to miss a thing or two and it goes unnoticed if there is no coach around. It is always better if someone monitors your game and advises at regular stages. They can be minor adjustments but significant in terms of improvement. It is a learning process.”
For a fast bowler — as for a batsman, a spinner and a wicketkeeper — experience is an aspect that enables him to be a complete practitioner in his field. “You can’t improve overnight, no one can. Today, with experience, I am aware of my body, my strengths. I understand myself better. I know when to push myself, the difference between on-season and off-season training. I also conserve myself at the nets now. Fast bowling is not just about being aggressive, giving the batsmen the stare. It is an art and one needs to sharpen one’s skills. There is accurate video analysis available of all players and that makes your job exciting as well as challenging.”Competition is good
Zaheer, 29, welcomes the competition that comes from youngsters in the shape of Ishant Sharma and R.P. Singh.
“Healthy competition is always good. It brings out the best out of everyone. See how Ishant came up in Australia. It is good for him, good for the team. Also I think it is important to have back-up. I have learnt to put my hand up when the team needs.”
Zaheer will need to remember that when he bowls his first ball in the forthcoming series against Australia.
6 months ago