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‘Didn’t want to rush my comeback’

Zaheer Khan

Mumbai: With a new generation of fast-bowlers coming up in India, questions were raised over Zaheer Khan’s significance in the Indian bowling line-up. Owing to fitness issues, the left-arm pacer was not in the limelight and his last match for India was almost a year ago.

But the 35-year-old Zaheer reclaimed headlines when he was included in the 17-member Test squad for the tour of South Africa. The call-up was not totally unexpected, as in testing conditions of South Africa, Zaheer’s experience would be invaluable to the team.

Youngsters like Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Umesh Yadav would need his guidance if they want to unsettle seasoned Proteas batsmen like Jacques Kallis, Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers.

Zaheer revealed that he was expecting to get the selectors’ nod and that he had a strategy in place charting his comeback to the national team.

“I was expecting the call-up… I kept on thinking how to go about the process for quite some time. 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’m there (in the team),” Zaheer, who has been busy playing Ranji Trophy for Mumbai, said on Tuesday, at the Wankhede.

“Obviously, the physical aspect was an important thing… I had to deal with that by consulting with a lot of trainers and physios. So far, it has worked. It was important that I had belief in my abilities and kept putting in the hard work. That’s what I have always been doing in my career. So this time around too, it was no different,” he added.

Zaheer said that he didn’t rush things and playing against West Indies A, last month, helped his confidence. “It has been a slow progress… I knew that I needed some overs under my belt to progress gradually. I didn’t want anything to happen suddenly and was progressing slowly, but surely.

“I bowled a few overs in that game (against West Indies A). I have always believed that match practice is always the best. So that was in my mind and that is how things gradually started picking up,” Zaheer said.

“That spell gave me a lot of confidence and I just picked it up from there,” he added.

Zaheer acknowledged the importance of bowling in the Ranji Trophy matches as well. “It was more about getting in that zone as far as matches are concerned… Once I had overs under my belt, I was comfortable being on the field. I felt that the recovery in between the spells was spot on.        

Zaheer underwent a training stint in Bloemfontein with fitness expert Adrian le Roux back in September to get acclimatised with the conditions. “That was the plan… Obviously, Adrian is someone with whom I have worked with before when he was with the Indian team. We have that rapport. I knew what kind of credibility he has. During the IPL, we had a plan that I would do my strength and conditioning base in France first and then join him for the cricketing skills there (in Bloemfontein). Basically, I just focused on sticking to the plan.”

On leading the bowling outfit against South Africa and guiding youngsters, Zaheer said: “That comes naturally to me. If I can help someone, I don’t hesitate to go up to him and say what I feel.

“Being a bowler in the subcontinent is never an easy task. You have to keep on encouraging them and give them confidence. The thought process is very important, especially when you are playing in the subcontinent.”        

The senior-pro lavished praises on Mohammed Shami, who made a dream Test debut at the Eden. “Our bowling attack is very promising… Shami bowled brilliantly against the West Indies. It was a dream spell and a dream debut… Considering the subcontinent, it is hard to get wickets as far as fast-bowling is concerned. Shami is brilliant both with the new and old ball.”