Zaheer Khan’s retirement from international cricket comes as no surprise. Unable to recover from his injuries, it was inevitable that India’s greatest left-arm fast bowler would call it a day. Team India would have loved to have him in their pace pack but a player, however celebrated, can’t make it if not fully fit.
However, the current generation of Indian fast bowlers must view him as an inspiration. His success — most number of international wickets (610) by an Indian fast bowler after Kapil Dev — came about through sheer hard work, the right kind of decisions and above all, the belief. It is Zaheer’s belief that caused him to give up a career in engineering and decide to make fast bowling his profession.
His cricket pilgrimage entailed leaving the comfort of his home in Shrirampur to head to the National Cricket Club in Cross Maidan, where he trained hard and made it to the Mumbai under-19 team.
He was picked in the Mumbai Ranji Trophy squad as a replacement for injured Salil Ankola in 1997, but he couldn’t be fitted in the playing XI. Eventually, he chose to play for Baroda and played his maiden first-class game in 1999. His career was launched and Mumbai welcomed him back when he chose to leave Baroda.
Fans love to watch fast bowlers running in and sending down thunderbolts that send stumps flying. But there is a lot of work that goes into each delivery. The body takes a pounding and if the bowler is not lucky with injuries, he keeps breaking down. Zaheer has experienced all that and made his comebacks count.
In 2006, he decided to play county cricket for Worcestershire. He was hailed for his performance against England in the Nottingham Test the following summer, but the roots of his revival lay in the rigours of the previous season.
Yuvraj Singh gets credited for his sterling all round performance in the 2011 World Cup, but Zaheer deserved more accolades for his 21 wickets, which contributed to India’s triumph.
The international career of Zaheer Khan was no fairytale, but his is a story laced with grit and this is a time to hail the hits and skip the misses.