'This is definitely the beginning of a new journey'

Zaheer raring to have a crack at SA

'This is definitely the beginning of a new journey'

The lack of an energetic leader was quite obvious in the Indian bowling ranks in the one-day series when the South African batsmen drubbed them mercilessly.

There were no early breakthroughs and when they managed to get a few wickets upfront the Indians struggled to follow it up with further strikes, allowing the hosts to muster two 300-plus totals and one over 280 in the three one-dayers.

From that angle, no sight would have been more reassuring than watching Zaheer Khan detailing his preparations for the upcoming Test series with the kind of intensity that we expect from a leader of the bowling pack. Zaheer last appeared in whites for India during the Kolkata Test against England in December 2012, spending a large part of the next year to regain his fitness and fire. 

The time away from Indian team has not either taken his edge away or prevented him from keeping a tab on the performance of new generation of Indian bowlers. He told them the need to build-up self-belief to do well in South Africa. “First of all you got to have that belief and you got to back yourself. I would say that was our success mantra during the earlier tours and this tour also we should look to do the same,” said Zaheer. 

The left-arm pacer was sure things would go only up from one-day series. “South Africa have those hit-the-deck kind of wickets. Obviously, to bowl with a white kookaburra ball and a red kookaburra ball there is a difference but whatever we have seen, I am sure everyone is analysing themselves and you know come the Tests it will be a different ball game.”

Zaheer, a shrewd observer of the game under his introvert mask, pointed out that India would need to pluck early wickets to put South Africa under pressure, an area they fell woefully short in the first two one-dayers at the Wanderers and Kingsmead.
 “It is very important for any fast bowling unit to pick up early wickets and that really sets the tone, especially in Test matches. It’s the responsibility of the opening bowlers and yes the red kookaburra ball does a lot,” he explained. 

In that context, Zaheer Khan has this iron grip on South Africa’s Test skipper Graeme Smith, often reducing him to the levels of his bunny.  Smith has not gone through a great time with the bat this year, either in one-dayers or Tests, and the left-hander’s grim form has also seen him getting replaced by Quinton de Kock in the 50-over format. The struggles of his old foe have not missed Zaheer’s keen eyes. 

“I think I just have to turn up there (to dismiss Smith). Having said that, Graeme has got a terrific record in Test matches. He’s a good leader too. It feels good when you go into a match with that edge over someone who has been a good opener and leader at the highest level,” he said. 

The tough competitor in Zaheer showed up when asked to speak about South Africans’ comments about the Indians being scared of their fast bowlers. “You know talks are talks. You can talk as much as you like outside. Once you go on to the field, it’s all about doing. I think this Indian team will do the needful to win this series.” 

Zaheer returned to competitive cricket in early October after an eight-month hiatus against the West Indies ‘A’ in Shimoga. Since that match, he has played another four-day tie against the Caribbean outfit at Hubli and four more Ranji Trophy matches for Mumbai. In those Ranji games, he has taken 16 wickets at an average of 19.06 with a five-wicket haul. 

“I can’t be happier, I have played enough first-class cricket and have bowled over 200 overs and I have covered all the areas as far as preparation is concerned. Right now, we have one more practice game which would obviously be of good help to get used to the altitude and adjust to the conditions,” said Zaheer. “From a personal perspective, this is definitely the beginning of a new journey for me,” he added. Hopefully, India will travel with him. 

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