All eyes will be on who the selectors pick in place of Sachin Tendulkar when they select the side to tour South Africa next month. Apart from that, there should be some interest in what happens to Zaheer Khan.
India’s most successful medium pacer after Kapil Dev with 295 wickets, Zaheer played the last of his 88 Tests against England last December. Lack of form and fitness were cited as reasons behind his omission.
After that, India handed Test caps to Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami with Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav waiting in the wings. Haryana’s Mohit Sharma and left-armer Jaydev Unadkat are also in contention.
With six medium pacers already in fray, the 35-year-old Zaheer’s place in the South Africa-bound squad is certainly not assured. Being omitted from the list of contracted players also indicates he is out of favour.
But can India afford to leave him out if he is fit and in form? “With the team set to play in New Zealand and England after South Africa, not taking Zaheer will be India’s loss. He has reduced his weight, looked fit and bowled well too,” said former India opener Wasim Jaffer, who has seen Zaheer bowl in three Ranji Trophy matches this season.
While the veteran left-armer didn’t set the stage on fire, he did take 13 wickets, including a five-wicket haul against Delhi last week, which helped Mumbai tie the first innings scores from a hopeless situation.
“Zaheer clocked 140-plus and bowled spells of 8-10 overs. There is no question about his quality. The only question was about his fitness and to me, he looked in very good shape. He is raring to go and I am surprised to see that he has not been given a central contract,” said Jaffer.
Former India medium pacer Madan Lal too said Zaheer would be his choice, if India pick five medium pacers. India did take as many on the last two tours of South Africa (in 2006-07 and 2010-11) and also on their last two foreign trips – to England (2011) and Australia (2011-12).
“I’ll go for Zaheer. There are just two Tests, which means there is no chance to come back if you make mistakes and Zaheer’s experience will come in handy in such a situation. He is bowling well,” said Madan, adding that Bhuvneshwar, Shami, Yadav and Mohit would be the other medium pacers of his choice.
India A coach Lalchand Rajput, under whose eyes Zaheer made a comeback against the West Indies A earlier this year, also felt the time is right to bring him back. According to him, the fitness issues troubling him are not there anymore.
“It’s true that he was struggling when he was left out last year. But he is proving himself again. He is doing well in Ranji Trophy and looking ready. I’m sure the selectors will take a look at him,” said Rajput, a former India opener.
With Mumbai not playing in the ongoing set of Ranji matches and the next round scheduled to start on November 28, Zaheer is unlikely to get another chance to impress the selectors before they select the squad for South Africa. Will what he has done be enough? One has to wait and watch!