Thirteen years ago, a young, raw pacer from Baroda marked his entry into international cricket with a bang when he shattered Australian skipper Steve Waugh’s stumps with a magnificent Yorker during the ICC Knockout Trophy at Nairobi in 2000. He was then rightly identified as one of a growing breed of young cricketers who could lead India to greater heights by sheer weight of stellar performances.
Much water has flown under the bridge since then. The pacer is no longer raw, but more refined, focused and a lot more deadly than before in terms of accuracy. Now no longer reliant on speed alone, he plots a batsman’s downfall with the shrewdness of a master planner, making the ball talk as it continues its journey down the other end of the pitch.
Fitness, weight and fielding issues have dogged the leader of the pace bowling pack for much of his career. But each time, he has risen like a phoenix, to dish out one rock-solid performance after another.
Zaheer Khan, one of the first cricketers to be inducted into the National Cricket Academy, turns 35 today.
Having returned from a six-week training programme at France under the watchful eyes of Tim Exeter, he looks leaner, meaner and hungrier for more wickets as he seeks to return to the national fold. His heroics during the 2011 Cricket World Cup are now a thing of the past, but the Srirampur boy still has plenty of cricket left in him.
On his birthday, here’s a look at five of his best bowling performances:
5. 5/91 (India v/s Australia, First Test, Border-Gavaskar Trophy, Bangalore, October 2008)
A spirited exhibition of swing, seam and pace from the veteran left-arm pacer ensured that India ended the early part of the first Test against Australia on a high.
Off the third ball of the match, Zaheer took out Matthew Hayden, before trapping Michael Clarke LBW in the last over of the first day. Yet, centuries from Ponting and Hussey kept the hosts at bay.
ZaK returned the next morning to polish off the tail and also dismissed Hussey to pick up five wickets in the innings. He also led a solid rearguard action in India’s first innings as his half-century and partnership with Harbhajan Singh ensured that the visitors could lead only by 70 runs.
India hung on gamely to draw the match and keep the scoreline 0-0, and ZaK was awarded the Man of the Match award for his all-round performance. He couldn’t resist taking a dig at the “defensive” tactics of the Aussies though!