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Saturday, 5 February 2011

World Cup: Zaheer Khan, India's Danger Bounce on Cricket

Zaheer Khan
                 At first glance, Zaheer Khan doesn't come across as a study in contradiction. He does not lack the belligerence of a faster bowler, has riled opposition teams often enough and has a tendency to get under the skin of any batsman found wanting — qualities acceptable and expected in any premier pacer. Like many others of his breed, he has lived with injuries, suffered for them, nursed them and overcome them. Yet probe deeper and none of these qualities explain his sudden metamorphosis into one of the world's premier wicket-takers around 2006-07, almost six years into a stop-start international career dotted with disappointments and murmurs about attitude.

The reaffirmation of Zaheer the phenomenon at Trent Bridge — a performance from which he has never looked back in spite of more injuries — and his easing into the role of responsible bowling spearhead, master planner and expert craftsman all rolled into one has been one of Indian cricket's greatest success stories. Ironically, Zaheer could only make this possible by breaking the fast bowling mould.

Not for him the study in extremes and one-dimensional combativeness of most speedsters. Faced with self-doubt, criticism, an exit from the team and a nerve twitch which threatened to derail his career, Zaheer went to Worcestershire and learnt to identify the shades of grey. He cut out the natural ego trips. He mastered walking the tightrope between control and abandon, temperance and arrogance. He had to put a little bit of Anil Kumble into the Zaheer he knew — marry the best of both worlds and make it work for him.

This fast bowler's approach and spinner's guile, this measured aggressiveness, this cunning ability to think out of the box, is why Zaheer is so dangerous today. This is the genesis of his increased bowling repertoire and impact on world cricket.

Along the way, Zaheer broke a few of his own, earlier rules. It was okay to cut short the run-up. It was okay to lessen the jump.

Reducing one's speed, that was fine too. He learnt to be equally effective at half tilt. From TA Sekhar to Steve Rhodes to Graham Dilley, he picked everyone's brains and chose the bits that would work for him. Where earlier he couldn't bring the ball into the right-hander and his lengths tended to go awry against more innovative batsmen, there is little he cannot do with the ball today. Be it the Duke, the Kookaburra or the SG. Away or at home.

Whether it's reverse or conventional swing, over or around the stumps, ODIs or Tests, Zaheer can be a surgeon who uses the ball like a scalpel, cutting away precise lines and angles. Yet he is also an artist of sublime skills and a general who can strategize around others' weaknesses. Add to it the persistence of a mathematician and Zaheer defies categorization. This is why he inspires fear. He is the man with the ideas.

Why the opponents have to be afraid:

Incisive Inswingers
Zak bowls a deadly inswinger, particularly to right-handers, which he had briefly lost before rediscovering it during the 2007 tour of England. He is even more dangerous bowling round the wicket to right-handers.

Getting better with age
Zaheer now has more weapons in his armoury and looks a complete bowler who is willing to bowl longer spells - always a good news for any captain. He has come a long way from his debut in the ICC Trophy in Kenya 11 years ago. He can read the batsman's mind much better. He has every delivery in his armoury. These days he makes the batsman play more besides using the short ball as a surprise weapon.

Rhythm divine
If he is in his elements, Zaheer doesn't look to contain the batsmen, but get them out. He unleashes his variations and apart from the slower one, also uses the slow bouncer.

Yorkers
Zaheer possesses a deadly yorker, perhaps the best, apart from Manoj Prabhakar, in Indian cricket history. Left-handers especially find it extremely difficult to cope with this delivery. When he gets it right, you know you will hear the sound of timber.

Reliable at the crunch
In a tight situation he has always kept his cool. Pressure doesn't ruffle him and he doesn't spray the ball around. If the game goes down to the wire, he's the ideal man to have the ball in his hand.

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