Comeback fast bowler Zaheer Khan is now ready to play a double role for India: lead the pace attack as well as mentor youngsters. He also wants to complete 100 Test matches. He is 12 short of the mark.
Zaheer’s long-time coach Sudhir Naik, a former Test opener, also says his most famous ward wants to concentrate only on Test cricket as he knows that younger bowlers have well and truly replaced the old guard in the shorter formats.
Zaheer is now 35, but he has worked hard on his fitness on special strips to France and South Africa. His new shape amazes not just Naik, but everyone who has seen the left-arm speedster bowling lately, including in Mumbai’s opening Ranji Trophy game against hosts Haryana in Lahli.
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"Lahli was definitely the turning point. The selectors also got confidence that he is taking wickets too besides bowling continuously for eight-nine overs at full pace," Naik told Mail Today, referring to his five-wicket haul in the game against hosts Haryana last month.
In three matches he bagged 13 wickets to force the selectors to pick him for the two Tests in South Africa. Naik swears by ward’s new vigour and speed. "Anyone who saw the Mumbai-Delhi Ranji match [in Mumbai], Zaheer was the fastest bowler on either side," he said.
"The most creditable thing is that even in his 15th firstclass season he can still bowl at 140 kmph or 142 kmph whenever he wants." Naik, 68, said Zaheer can also mentor youngsters.
"He can play that role and he is ready to do that. As Mumbai captain, for example, he has been repeatedly asking us to give him raw pace bowlers so that he could mould them. He loves to guide people," he emphasised. "He is the most experienced bowler in the team, and also the most accurate.
He can guide youngsters like Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Umesh Yadav etc. These youngsters can develop much faster if he’s around." Naik informed that Zaheer has understood that with his advancing age it was advisable that he focuses only on Test cricket.
"He’s interested in Test matches only. He knows that there’s no point in striving to play for ODIs, in the sense that he’s late for the 2015 World Cup. He wants young players to play ODIs. But he can play Test matches for another two years. Definitely, he’s good enough to play for two years," he pointed out.
"He said that he wanted to play for India [again] and complete the 100-Test mark. That’s his aim. With God’s help he can meet that target." As chairman of the Mumbai selection committee, Naik got an opportunity to interact with Zaheer closely in the last month or so.
"I told him that with his vast experience, he doesn’t have to worry about what the selectors would do, and that he should keep playing matches. I told him that if he performs, the selectors would look to him because no one has the kind of experience he has. Basically, I told him that he should not be depressed."
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