BANGALORE: Like beer and the inevitable belly, fast bowling and injuries go hand in hand.
India’s bowling spearhead for the past decade, Zaheer Khan, is no stranger to such physical inconveniences, having broken down in matches and on tours, most famously when he hobbled out of action on the opening day of India’s first Test against England, at Lord’s in 2011.
India was blanked in the series, thanks in part to the bowling losing its sole mode of attack and the team resembling a list of the walking wounded.
Although the left-arm fast bowler returned for the tour of Australia later last year, a similar depressing 0-4 rout ensued.
Zaheer was rested from the Asia Cup on grounds of injury and is currently at the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore to assess his fitness for the upcoming ODI and Twenty20 trip to the Emerald Isle.
Saying that it was too early for him to start priotritising a particular format, Zaheer, in touching distance of 34, was clear that his focus would unwaveringly be on the 10 Test matches - two versus New Zealand four apiece against England and Australia - in the season ahead.
"The next season is a very crucial one. Lots of important series are coming up this season. I am really looking forward to this season because England and Australia are coming. It is a long season so I have to plan it well. I am very excited about playing 10 Test matches this year and I am looking forward to contributing in a big way in whichever capacity I can.”
"I haven’t thought about anything of that sort (fosussing on one format) right now. The IPL was important for me so was the Australian tour. I am enjoying my cricket now and love being there on the field. I don’t want to complicate my thinking right now."
"Right now, the focus is to build up the bowling fitness. I am happy with the way I am shaping up for the Sri Lanka series. The trainers have chalked out the guideline and how to go about it,” he added.
Zaheer admitted there was little one could do once an injury took place; all one could do was take precautions and prevent them from occurring.
"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 and focus on the processes.The break has been good and 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. Right now the focus will be on the Sri Lanka series."
Although two 'revenge' Test series against top teams loomed, the bowler said he would first concentrate on the task at hand.
"We have not done well in the last trips to England and Australia. I don’t want to think about it now. I will talk about it as we come close to those series."
On the role of the NCA in gauging the state of fitness of players and the Board's policy of mandatory fitness tests, Zaheer said,
“I have been a regular here and I have assessed my fitness frequently. It has worked well for me. I am sure a lot of players have been coming here. This time it was more formal. But I think most of the players have been coming here anyways.
"Being a fast bowler you cannot escape injuries. When it is going to happen, it varies with different people. But as a fast bowler, you are prone to injuries. And you have to live with that, you have to be patient and you have to do things which are under your control. You have to make sure you take hundred per cent time to recover and that’s what Varun Aaron has done.
Now that he was a senior pro, did Zaheer take time out to mentor the younger bowlers? Did he counsel them on dealing with injuries?
"Whenever I get an opportunity – be it in the IPL or at the nets or stuff – I make sure I contribute in whichever way possible. I have been enjoying that role.
"You have to be patient. You should be dedicated to your rehab programme. Importantly, you have to ensure that you are 110 per cent when you are back on the field after an injury."