December 2012 has been the toughest month for old warhorse and Indian quickie Zaheer Khan.
He has not been picked for the Test, T20 and ODI squad.
At one level, that is quite humiliating and the BCCI continues to lack a long-term replacement plan and retirement policy for its seniors. It’s always the same old story and greats get dishonourable exits.
Zaks is already 34, which is oldish for a fast bowler and the question to be asked is, has he virtually retired?
Of course there are reports saying that he has merely been rested and will make a comeback for the Australia Test series. But what if he is not fully fit or not in form in his domestic matches in the run-up to that series, then what?
In a country obsessed with batting landmarks, bowlers always get a raw deal. Zaks has collected close to 600 international wickets from all three formats of the game.
He has undoubtedly been the standout bowler for India in the last decade. Zaheer has always spearheaded the Indian attack quite well and helped many a young quick on his way. The only thing that has held him back has been his injuries.
As he finds himself out of all three Teams India, here’s looking at some of the greatest moments of Zaheer’s career in international cricket…
World Cup 2011: In every ODI World Cup the winning team always has the highest wicket-taker in its team though not necessarily the highest run-getter. That’s the importance of bowling and Zaheer proved that once again in 2011.
He took 21 wickets in 9 matches at an average of close to 17. In both the quarters and semis, he picked up two key wickets each. In the final even though he was hit towards the end, his astonishing opening spell of 5-3-6-1 ensured that Sri Lanka did not run away with the match and score in the region of 300-350.
Jellybeangate 2007: We had a tough tour of England in 2007 and won it thanks largely to Zaheer Khan. It may be remembered that no Indian batsman scored a century in this series (Only the bowler Anil Kumble could manage this feat).
Zaheer was the leading wicket-taker of the series with 18 scalps at an average of 20. But he is remembered in the second Test at Trent Bridge, the only match we won. Zaks found some jelly beans on the field when he came out to bat.
He had already taken 4 wickets in the first innings and an enraged Zaheer waved his bat at the English batsmen and then went on to take 5 wickets in the second innings including three top order batsman.
He had the last laugh as he took away the man of the match award and India won the series.
Australia tour 2009: In 2009, when the Aussies visited us, the first match was a pretty close affair where we won by one wicket. Zaheer’s 5-wicket haul helped us and he also got the man-of-the match award.
India finally won the series 2-0 and Zaks emerged as the highest wicket taker on both sides, not as easy feat for a pacer on the hot and dusty Indian tracks.
New Zealand tour 2009: We won a Test series in New Zealand after more than 40 years and Zaheer’s 13 wickets in the series had a lot to do with it. He also hit a half-century in the winning Test.
In fact in the third Test, when we were leading 1-0, Zaheer’s 5-65 helped the Kiwis slide to 197 after India had scored 379.
A late declaration (setting the Kiwis an improbable victory target 617 runs) probably took the match away from us. But Zaks still took two top order batsmen as the Kiwis lost 8 wickets and we came tantalizingly close to winning 2-0.
Other Feats: There are other little things. Zaks made the world record highest score (at that time) of 75 by a Number 11 Test batsman when he belted two sixes and ten fours in a match against Bangladesh. He put up 133 runs for the last wicket along with Sachin Tendulkar.
He also became the first person in the world to hit four straight sixes in an ODI match.
When there was a 3-way race between India, Sri Lanka and South Africa for the ICC No. 1 ranking, India thrashed the Lankans 2-0 to break away. Zaks took a 5-wicket haul in the last innings of the last match to ensure an innings victory. That was a very key series as India managed to stay on the top for top for 20 months in Tests.
Zaheer is probably one of the most unsung heroes in the history of Indian cricket. He’s always been there for India at its most critical moments.
India will find it very tough to replace him if and when he retires!
The author is a Bengaluru-based journalist and blogger.
He blogs at http://sunilrajguru.com/