Zak is back. The national selectors on Monday handed a lifeline to Zaheer Khan by naming in the 17-member Test squad for the series in South Africa next month. The left-armer returns to the side after a year, having played the last of his 88 Tests against England in Kolkata.
Zaheer’s return is significant because he had practically been ruled out and the focus of the selectors of late had been on youngsters. The 35-year-old’s fitness was questioned apart from his ability to be as effective as he had been from 2006 to 2011 – a period when he was indisputably India’s No 1 quick bowler in all conditions, with the new and old ball.
TNIE contacted a number of former India fast bowlers, who were unanimous in acknowledging Zaheer’s experience and skills will make him a handy customer is South African conditions. Given the fact that three of the other four medium pacers picked have no experience of playing Tests abroad, Zaheer’s inclusion is all the more welcome.
“Experience is what matters and Zaheer has that in plenty. Line and length is his strength and even though he is not at the peak of his pace, the bounce and carry he will get in the pitches in South Africa will compensate for that,” said former India fast bowler Javagal Srinath, who took 43 wickets in the eight Tests he played in South Africa, from 1992 to 2001.
Talking a few months earlier, Srinath had said: “If fit, Zaheer should be picked. There should be no question about his ability. The only question is he should be fit for the number of matches India would be playing.”
Srinath’s new ball partner in the Indian team for a period in the 90s, Manoj Prabhakar, said Zaheer has put to rest questions about fitness. Having watched him in the Mumbai-Haryana Ranji Trophy match last month, Prabhakar said: “He bowled like a champion. Not only did he look fit, he bowled with pace. His line and length was perfect and he swung the ball both ways. And he bowled long spells too.”
The former all-rounder, who was part of India’s first trip to South Africa in 1992, felt Zaheer had to be included. “Without him, the pace attack would have looked pedestrian. He is the only experienced medium pacer and knows how to handle the Kookaburra ball. Others will struggle to come to terms with it and this is where Zaheer’s experience will come into play. He can help the youngsters get used to it,” said Prabhakar.
Former India medium pacer and coach, Madan Lal too welcomed Zaheer’s inclusion. “The selectors must have considered his experience and thought of what he can offer in South Africa. He is the only bowler in the team who can exploit the conditions over there with his craft. The wickets over there will suit his kind of bowling,” he said.
Gambhir stays out
Gautam Gambhir remained out, with the selectors deciding against picking a third specialist opener. Middle-order bat Ambati Rayudu was included in the Test squad for the first time.
The squads (Gallery):
Tests: MS Dhoni, Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Ambati Rayudu, Ravindra Jadeja, Wriddhiman Saha, R Ashwin, Pragyan Ojha, Zaheer Khan, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma.
ODIs: MS Dhoni, Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Amabati Rayudu, Mohit Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Amit Mishra, Ajinkya Rahane.