Zaheer Khan: A profile of India's new bowling coach, the best man for the job

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11 Jul 2017 04:23 PM IST

NEW DELHI: Late on Tuesday evening, news broke from the BCCI that Ravi Shastri was indeed the new coach of the Indian cricket team, capping a frenzied few hours when speculation had been rife about whether or not the former India allrounder, who was team director from August 2014 to April 2016, was stepping into the shoes vacated by Anil Kumble last month.

When the confirmation came, it was no surprise.

What did cause a flutter was news that former India fast bowler Zaheer Khan had been appointed bowling coach of the team, for this was not widely foreseen.

Add to it the pedigree and tactual nous of Zaheer, India's fourth most successful bowler in Tests and ODIs, and this was a major announcement.

India's pace bowling stocks has arguably never been better, with Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah and Hardik Pandya all capable of clocking 140kph, and the likes of Dhawal Kulkarni, Ishant Sharma, Shardul Thakur and Jaydev Unadkat followed by the promise of youngsters such as Mohammed Siraj and Basil Thampi.

While he has no formal coaching experience, the 38-year-old Zaheer brings a vault of experience to his most high-profile role since he retired from international cricket in October 2015.

He will rank as one of India's best fast bowlers and, for two periods in his international career, was on par with the best in the world.

The highlights reel of Zaheer's career makes for special reading.

A total of 311 wickets in 92 Test matches and 269 in ODIs over 15 years.

A World Cup winner, in 2011 when he was the joint highest wicket-taker.

A leading role in a rare Test victory in England, and a supporting role in India's only two on South African soil.

In between, there was success in Test wins at home and in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, New Zealand and in the West Indies.

A tall, sturdy fast bowler with a smile to put you at ease, much was expected of him when he burst onto the scene with those yorkers to the Australians in Nairobi in 2000.

Here was an Indian bowler regularly able to clock in excess of 140kph and bend the ball back in. That he was a left-arm pace bowler made him all the more appealing and exciting.

This was a unique talent in the Indian scenario.

Of course, comparisons with Kapil Dev and Javagal Srinath, who at the time was starting his decline, were inevitable.

To watch him move the ball at Trent Bridge in the summer of 2007 and be sucked into the TV screen, to gasp at deliveries that curved away from prodding bats.

To see him appeal with a clap when he was certain a batsman was lbw, eyes crinkled as a celebratory smile began to form, then slap your thigh in excitement.

To throw your head back in marvel when he went through the defences of Brad Haddin and Brett Lee with successive deliveries bowled with the old ball, getting it to reverse delectably.

Was there a better exponent of the old ball for India? With all due credit to Manoj Prabhakar, no. That ability to swing the old ball and new and extract reverse swing was Zaheer's hallmark.

He was a master of bringing the ball back into the right-hander and moving it away sharply from a left-hander by the name of Graeme Smith.

Later in his career, Zaheer wisely understood the importance of cutting down on pace for accuracy and the results were, for the most, very satisfactory.

Think 2010, and fine bowling performances in Mirpur, Mohali and Durban.

Twice in his international career Zaheer made the hard climb back to the top. First in 2006 after a stint at Worcestershire when 78 wickets propelled him back into the Indian team, and then late 2013 when he worked hard in his fitness and bowling to return for the Test tours of South Africa and New Zealand.

On the occasion of his first return, Zaheer proved the perfect foil for Sreesanth in South Africa, before moving past him to reclaim his status as India's pace spearhead with an unforgettable nine-wicket performance in Nottingham in 2007 that secure India's fifth Test win in England.

On the second, in what proved his final chapter with India, he bowled more with his head than with pace, which was expectedly down, and with almost Zen-like poise slipped into the role of mentor to the rest of the pacers on and off the field.

Five wickets in Johannesburg were testament to his craft and helped India, during South Africa's first innings, to exhibit control over the hosts.

He struggled in the second Test, but nine wickets in two Tests in New Zealand hinted at something more.

It is that Zaheer which this Indian team, as it prepares for a full tour of Sri Lanka starting later this month, can hope to be enriched with.

The BCCI's Cricket Advisory Committee, comprising Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman - each of whom has played a lot of cricket with Zaheer - has made a wise choice in pushing for his appointment as bowling coach.

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