Rahul Dravid has stirred up a hornet's nest by saying that it's time for Zaheer Khan to take a call on his future. The former India captain is of the opinion that the 35-year-old left-arm pacer may not be able to deal with the severity of five Test matches in England later this year. "Can he survive five Test matches in England? I am not so sure," Dravid told ESPNcricinfo. "I think it is a question he deeply needs to ask himself.
He doesn't want to end up being someone who struggles his way through to the end. It can be really hard. And we have seen, he struggled to back up time and time again in these two series. So that's an issue he needs to consider, the Indian selectors need to consider," Dravid added.
Here are the facts: in four Test matches since his return, Khan has picked up 16 wickets, including a five-wicket haul. India lost and drew an equal number of these games. In South Africa, Khan became only the second India pacer after Kapil Dev to pick up 300 wickets. A victim of injuries throughout his career, Khan turned the corner by undergoing strenuous conditioning camps in France and South Africa. He returned fitter and the results were largely good.
Dravid's opinion is an earnest one alright, but the gentleman from Bangalore wasn't so critical of MS Dhoni, who has now presided over 10 defeats in 12 overseas Tests. "He deserves to be captain for another year so that he can undo all the wrongs," Dravid told the same portal. That's being too charitable, isn't it?
This newspaper spoke to two former players who know a thing or two about fast bowling — TA Sekar and Madan Lal. Sekar, who has worked with the likes of Khan, S Sreesanth and Irfan Pathan among others, laughed off Dravid's suggestion. "That's his view," said Sekar, who is the chief mentor of Delhi Daredevils. "I feel Zaheer has a lot to contribute. And please tell me who can replace him. Even though Ishant Sharma has played 50-plus Tests, he is incapable of leading the attack. In fact, Ishant is finally bowling like he used to in 2008 only because of Zaheer. That's Zaheer's magic. Not only does he bowl, but he also mentors the younger lot. We need him to be around for another year. There is no doubt about it," he explained.
There have been question marks over Khan's pace, but Sekar shoots back, saying, "How quick is Bhuvneshwar Kumar? What about Praveen Kumar? Look, Zaheer is 35. Pace was never his strength. In any case, he bows 130-plus whenever the situation demands. He is a smart bowler who conserves energy and works with the angles and variations. Don't judge him by his pace. To me, Zaheer is the Wasim Akram of the modern era. He is a precious asset. And given that he doesn't play ODI cricket, he will be fresh by the time the England series comes our way."
Lal, a member of Kapil Dev's 1983 World Cup-winning squad, seconded Dravid's views. "It's high time Zaheer contemplates retirement. In the last two series, he wasn't at his best. He is not bowling the way he used to," Lal said. "Zaheer deserves all the respect in the world for picking up more than 300 Test wickets, but the standards he has set for himself are much higher. I'm afraid he's not meeting those levels. It's high time to give bowlers like Umesh Yadav, Varun Aaron, Ishwar Pandey and Bhuvneshwar Kumar a long run. Give them a chance to prove themselves. It's time to test the new generation. This is the right time for Zaheer to say good bye before he is dropped."