Mumbai’s Irani Cup squad should have been of particular interest to Michael Clarke. The Australian skipper may have allowed himself a grin, for a certain Zaheer Khan does not feature in the 15. Zaheer’s absence from the Irani tie has cast a doubt over his availability for the four-Test series against Australia, starting with the first match in Chennai on February 22.
Mumbai made two changes to the 15-men squad that won the Ranji final by an innings and 125 runs in under three days against Saurashtra, bringing in Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma for Nikhil Patil Jr. and Sushant Marathe.
“Zaheer is not yet fit and it seems he would need at least three weeks to regain fitness,” informed Mumbai Cricket Association’s secretary Nitin Dalal. India’s pace spearhead was injured during Mumbai’s Ranji league game against Gujarat, and has since then been undergoing rehabilitation at the National Cricket Academy. It is reliably learnt that he has been training indoors and hasn’t started bowling yet.
Zaheer, in recent times, hasn’t made for a pleasing visual. And with every series he misses (or breaks down in) that uncomfortable question crops up: how long will he be around?
Losing pace — which Zaheer surely has — is no cause for alarm. Chaminda Vaas was all-craft in his last years.
And if you are in your mid-30s, you are not expected to charge in every over. Just recently, Dale Steyn spoke about economy of energy — when to crank up pace, when to exercise restraint.
Zaheer knows it all too well. There are times, especially in Indian conditions, when it appears that he’s bowling within himself. But the wrist and fingers are doing the trick: straight seam, scrambled seam, cutters and all the subtleties you could think of. When he sniffs wickets and the ball reverses, he clocks the high 130s. And there is an instant shift in his body language.
None of this was on view in the last Test series against England. Alastair Cook looked unflappable against him. With the old ball, too, Zaheer hardly posed a threat. What was more, his general demeanour on the field — not taking starts while fielding in the deep — didn’t go down well with the selectors.
It is likely that the selectors might not field Zaheer against Australia without assessing his form or fitness. Not to forget that he has had a history of ill-timed breakdowns. Given that Umesh Yadav is ruled out for three months and a verdict on the ‘new and reformed’ S Sreesanth is still awaited, India could end up fielding one of their most inexperienced pace attacks ever on home soil.
There is a thought that Zaheer is being well rested and Sandeep Patil’s panel might still consider him for the forthcoming Tests, given his experience and role as mentor to India’s emerging quicks. Whether it’s a risk worth taking is the question.