Zaheer's mind was willing, the body wasn't

[LINK-OUT]—Making a comeback to the Indian team was all about overcoming fitness problems.

Zaheer trains ahead of a Ranji game for Mumbai.

The realisation that the 2015 World Cup isn’t happening for him but the desire to not give up now is what has brought Zaheer Khan back to the Indian team.

The pace spearhead with 295 Test wickets will be going to South Africa next month. He hasn’t played Test cricket for nearly a year. But he has worked hard on his fitness and has had five good First Class games this season in which he has picked up 20 wickets.

Speaking after a Ranji Trophy practice session, Zaheer said coming back was more physically challenging than mentally.

"Since last year, I'd been thinking about how to go about this process. The first question was whether I wanted to stage a comeback. When the answer was yes, I chalked out a strategy. I did everything possible to make sure that I am there. Obviously the physical aspect was the big thing. I had to tackle that in consultation with lot of trainers and physios. So far it has worked," Zaheer said after the Mumbai Ranji session here.

A good spell in Shimoga where he was playing the West Indies ‘A’ side, gave him a much-needed boost.

"It's been a slow progress right from Shimoga. When I went to Shimoga, I knew that I need some overs under my belt," he said. "I didn't want anything to happen suddenly. I was kind of progressing slowly but surely," Zaheer said. "As I bowled a few overs in that particular game, slowly things started picking up. I've always believed in match practice being the best practice. The spell that I bowled in Hubli towards the end of the game gave me a lot of confidence and from then I just picked it up."

"I was feeling that the recovery in between the spells was spot on. I was able to recover between the spells and come next day. So those were the things I was looking at. As far as Test matches are concerned, not only do you have to put in the effort on day one, but the important thing is you have to come back the following day and make sure you are there from ball one."

Tim Exeter, the fitness expert who'd trained Yuvraj Singh and Zaheer earlier this summer, said the duo had to lose weight.

To (Exeter), though, the two were just athletes. "I could tell they were not as lean as they needed to be," Exeter says. "Having not worked with the guys before, I was not familiar about where they should be. But one of Zak's major goals was to get his body fat levels down and get stronger."

"Where a lot of people go wrong is, they eat too much bread and pasta and a whole lot of stuff like that," Exeter says. "But if you are not in an endurance sport like cycling or distance running, it is not good to have such food. There has been a fallacy that pasta is king, and you have got to smash carbohydrates down, but it can actually blow you up. So he reduced that a lot, and switched to more protein, like fish, and vegetables along with moderate amounts of fruit to help improve his body composition."