Zaheer still has a lot left in the tank

Zaheer still has a lot left in the tank

Left-arm pacer showed no signs of rust against CSK

Zaheer still has a lot left in the tank

Zaheer Khan pumped his fists and let out a war cry after dismissing Michael Hussey on Saturday night during Royal Challengers Bangalore’s match against the Chennai Super Kings at the M Chinnaswamy stadium.

It was a moment made for camera, but there was a much deeper meaning to that picture. It was a reassuring image, conveying with clarity that Zaheer is not lost to Indian cricket, an indication that India can hope for the master pacer to be in their line-up when they embark on a slew of foreign trips from this year end.

Zaheer has bowled just six overs in two matches for five wickets in the sixth edition of the Indian Premier League, and is it a convincing sign of him charting his way back to top-flight cricket? And at 34, has he got enough energy in his limbs to go through the rigours of international cricket?

But those six overs spread over five days showed that Zaheer has not lost much pace or control despite being away from action for a considerable period. His last international assignment was a Test match against England in Kolkata in December, 2011 and the last first-class match he played was a Ranji Trophy game against Gujarat in the same month.

There was no sign of rust as he delivered once again under a pressure situation, this time against the Super Kings. All along the IPL VI, the Royal Challengers bowling attack lacked the desired punch, and against Super Kings -- a team with rich batting resources -- they needed a tidy effort to defend 107 in eight overs.

Zaheer responded to the situation in perfect way. His twin strikes to jettison Hussey and Raina underscored the point that he has not lost the ability to remove opposition’s big wickets. Now, the challenge in front of Zaheer is to keep his body and mind sharp till the start of the domestic season later this year. It will be a fine chance for him to get some overs under his belt as Zaheer has been a firm believer of bowling in match situations to find his flow.

A fit and firing Zaheer is central to India doing well on overseas tours, and his role as the leader of young pace bowlers will also be vital on those tours. Ishant Sharma is still to mature as a bowler let alone as the leader of the pack, while other bowlers like Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who could be a part of India’s future pace attack, lack experience at the highest level.

Those players have certainly got talent, but they are in need of an experienced campaigner on their side to absorb the pressures of playing in alien conditions, and there’s no better person than Zaheer to do that job.

Ray Jennings, the coach of Royal Challengers, agreed. “Zak has the experience and knows what to do under pressure. The tough thing for me was to get Zak match-fit and we did not have that many games where we could play Zak and hope that he will come through. We all know that when Zak is match-fit, he has the amazing ability to handle the heat, the pressure.

He was really fired up (against CSK) and the catch he took (to dismiss Ravindra Jadeja off his own bowling) in the last over amazed me. He has  returned and is a bit spicy like Indian curry and that’s good for the Indian team this season.”

Hopefully, Jennings’ words will come true.