Zaheer remains India’s pace enforcer


NEW DELHI – With 12 wickets so far, Zaheer Khan is the leading fast bowler at the World Cup and India skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s go-to man when the going gets tough for the hosts. At the World Cup, where there have been constant question marks over the staying power of India’s attack, Dhoni has turned to the burly left-armer whose mastery of the ball is matched by the ferocity of his character.
The 32-year-old, however, prefers to keep a low profile. “I’m enjoying the space I am in,” he said. “There’s a lot more responsibility and I have no issues going to sleep with this pressure. I’m ready for the next day. I have to lead by example, which I find challenging.” The bowler’s calm disposition was on show during the tied game against England in Bangalore.
Zaheer was taken for 40 runs in his first five overs by rampaging England batsmen but he did not lose heart. Bowling in his second spell, an inspired Zaheer cleaned up Andrew Strauss and Ian Bell off successive deliveries to bring India back into the game. His 12 wickets from five games put him ahead of fast bowling rivals Dale Steyn of South Africa, who has 10, and fiery Australian Shaun Tait on eight.
Zaheer’s control, nagging line and length and ability to reverse swing the old ball have often led to comparisons with legendary Pakistan left-armer Wasim Akram. Zaheer may not be as skilled as Akram but he has definitely carried India’s pace attack, grabbing 264 wickets from 187 one-day internationals at an average of just over 29. That Zaheer is indispensable was evident in the three-wicket defeat against South Africa.
The Baroda seamer gave away just four runs in what turned out to be penultimate over of the match before Zaheer’s pace partner Ashish Nehra conceded 16 to let the game slip from India’s hands. Dhoni summed up Zaheer’s effectiveness. “It’s not that whenever Zaheer plays, he gets wickets,” said Dhoni.
“But with his amount of experience, he always has a back-up plan ready in case the first strategy doesn’t work.” Zaheer’s journey to the top has not been without its share of ups and downs. A shoulder surgery in 2009 threatened to cut short his career but he fought back to emerge as a stronger and more competitive bowler.