Retired Indian cricketer Zaheer Khan's first Mumbai Ranji captain Amol Muzumdar recalls net sessions in 1996 when the pacer first arrived on the scene
Picture this: A left-arm seamer at the top of his run-up, hustling in with his body leaning forward, his right palm over and covering the shiny cricket ball neatly tucked in his left, resembling an athlete fully aware of his trade.
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The poker-faced bowler coming closer to the stumps, jumping high up, getting into delivery stride in a perfect loading position, landing and then releasing the ball. The batsman can see the seam upright, wrist firmly behind the ball.
Zaheer Khan. Pic/Getty Images
Half-way through the path, as it comes closer to the bat, the ball tends to slightly tilt the other way than expected by the batsman. It takes the outside edge and goes to the ’keeper. Then, the big celebration where he puts those levers out wide and runs with his neck thrusting vertically. His teammates follow.
That is Zaheer Khan, the master of reverse swing bowling, who retired from international cricket on Thursday.
Back in 1996...
My mind goes back to 1996 when I first saw him as young, naïve-looking boy coming to the Mumbai Ranji Trophy nets with his mentor Sudhir Naik. Although raw, he appeared confident and skilful.
Early morning practice wickets at Wankhede could be lively, ideal for any fast bowler, but I particularly remember facing Zaheer because he was the only one who would get the ball to nip back in sharply and hit my unprotected inner thigh. Annoyed by these constant hits, I was forced to call for some protective gear from my then sponsors. It was
pretty evident to me that this guy was going to make it big.
Competing with Zaheer was another left-armer. Both hailed from the interiors of Maharashtra. As luck would have it, the team management and selectors preferred the other.
Zaheer decided to play Ranji Trophy for Baroda and was an instant star. In his formative years, he was under the watchful eyes of Dennis Lillee and TA Sekar at the MRF Pace Foundation and within three years, Zaheer was playing for India.
He looked at ease on the international circuit, as if he belonged there and churned out many a game-changing performance for India. His stint with Worcestershire in 2006 was the most fruitful. It was as if he had been to a finishing school. He came back healthier and richer, both in experience and expertise. Several match-winning performances emphasised the fact that he had honed his skills and almost mastered them. To me, there are two parts of Zaheer’s career — pre-Worcestershire and post-Worcestershire.
A changed bowler
He came up with some match-winning performances in famous wins not just abroad but also in the sub-continent. He became an important cog in the wheel for India who went on to become the No 1 team in Test cricket. And we must not forget his exploits in the 2011 World Cup.
Without doubt, Zaheer is the best left-arm bowler to play for India. In fact, I would say, the second best seamer to have donned the India cap after Kapil Dev. He’s not just a special cricketer, but also a humble human being. It’s a rare combo! And while accolades flow post his retirement, all I would say is, Zak, you deserve all that praise.
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