'Focus on regaining bowling fitness'

Zaheer crucial to Indias prospects in hectic season

Staging comeback from injuries has been a common feature of Zaheer Khan’s 12-year old career as an international cricketer. In the latest such instance, the left-arm pacer had missed a good part of the last season due to hamstring and ankle injuries that forced him to go under surgeon’s scalpel before making it to the tour of Australia in the nick of time. The Mumbai man survived a rigorous Aussie summer but had to sit out of the Asia Cup in Bangladesh due to his massive workload Down Under.

Pace spearhead Zaheer Khan is looking forward to series against England and Australia. DH PhotoZaheer faces a familair situation as India brace up for a hectic new season, featuring a bilateral one-day series against Sri Lanka, World T20 and a slew of Tests and one-dayers at home against New Zealand, England and Australia. The responsibility of leading the Indian attack will be on the 33-year old, and the circumstance has become only grimmer for Zaheer as pacemen who could have played the support cast -- Ishant Sharma, RP Singh, Munaf Patel and S Sreesanth -- are struggling with various injuries with a precise timeframe for their return yet to be known.

In that context, a fully-fit Zaheer is imperative for India’s desire to wash away the stigma of eight successive Test defeats abroad with strong outings at home against the same opponents. He has been working hard at the National Cricket Academy, preparing his body to go through the grind for the next year or so, and by his own admission the aim is to be “110 per cent fit.” The progress thus far has left him pleased to no limit.

“I am happy with the way I am going about my bowling. I am focusing on my bowling fitness now as the season is going to be long. Being a fast bowler and the way my whole career has gone -- often marred by injuries -- I just want to do all the right things. The next season is very crucial. Lot of important series at home are coming up.” 

Nothing comes bigger this season than the series against England and Australia, and Zaheer was quite excited at the prospect of taking on India’s tormentors last season in familiar conditions. “I am really looking forward to this season because England and Australia are coming. I am very excited about playing 10 Test matches this year and I am looking forward to contribute in a big way,” Zaheer said. 

But excitement has not prevailed over common sense. “It is a long season so I have to plan it well.” The experienced campaigner in Zaheer knew the importance of staying on top of his fitness to last till the end. “I have always said that being a fast bowler you cannot escape injuries. It (injury) varies with different people. But as a fast bowler, you are prone to injuries and you have to live with that fact. You have to be patient. You have to bowl as much as you can in the nets. Bowling fitness is as important as your physical fitness. You have to find the right balance where you are not neglecting any vital factor. That balance comes with experience.”

The question was inevitable whether the thought of giving up one format of the game, considering his heavy workload, to extend his lifespan as a cricketer has come across his mind. He has the examples of Lasith Malinga, Kevin Pietersen, Brett Lee and Michael Clarke, who all have abandoned one version, to emulate. But Zaheer struck a different note.

“I haven’t thought about anything of that sort right now. I am enjoying my cricket now and love being there on the field. I don’t want to complicate my thinking right now, thinking about such issues,” he said. India too need a clear-minded Zaheer now more than ever.

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