For some reason, India has never produced too many Devs or Akrams or Steyns. If you ask the general Indian public about great Indian fast bowlers, you will most likely get only one answer, Kapil Dev. I wonder if the Indian fans even respect good fast bowlers when they come around. There is no doubt that India is and always has been batsmen loving nation. It is probably why, our batsmen have always been the bigger stars.
One bowler who I felt never quite got his due was Zaheer Khan. For me, he was definitely one of the best and I am surprised on how quickly people have chosen to forget him. I remember when Sourav Ganguly was dropped. There were protests in West Bengal, particularly in his hometown of Kolkata. When the somewhat less popular, Rahul Dravid was dropped from ODI squad, there were no protests. Yet, thousands of people were following his progress in the Ranji Trophy which made the servers of Cricinfo crash as he went onto compile a century in his comeback game for Karnataka. On the other hand, Zaheer was left out of the team and yet there was hardly any outrage. Some may have followed Mumbai’s Ranji game against MP, but that was more because they cared about Mumbai. Was Zaheer that ordinary?
An ODI career with an average of nearly 30 and economy of nearly 5, might fool you into believing that he was ordinary indeed. But that is far from the truth. His ODI strike-rate of 35.8 is actually better than even Wasim Akram’s. Even Sri Lanka’s spin wizard Murali only has a marginally better strike rate than this talented pacer from Shrirampur. Everyone remembers Mohammed Kaif and Yuvraj Singh for that amazing Natwest win, do they remember that Zaheer was India’s highest wicket taker in that series?
Since his ODI debut, India played 359 ODIs with a Win/Loss ratio of 1.40. Thanks to many injuries that he suffered over the years, Zaheer played only 194 of those, but India’s W/L ratio rose to 1.625 in them. In ODIs won, Zaheer averaged an amazing 24 striking every 31 balls. During the 2001-05 period, which probably was his best, he averaged 26 while the team’s average was nearly 31. In that period, he picked 25 wickets in South Africa at 18 a piece and 14 wickets in England at 23.
His performance at the big stage was highly under-rated. In the three world cups that he was around for, Zaheer claimed wickets at just 20 runs a piece and a phenomenal strike-rate of 27 balls per victim. In 2003 world cup, he ended up being the fourth highest wicket taker. Spell of 4/42 against the Kiwis stood out as his best performance in that tournament. In the last world cup, even though he wasn’t among the highest wicket takers, but he took crucial wickets for India in many games. Mike Hussey’s wicket in Quarter-finals helped restricting Australia to 260. English captain Andrew Strauss also fell to Zaheer at a crucial time, which helped India tie a game that was running away from us. Anytime MS Dhoni needed some wickets, he could throw the ball to Zaheer and he would get the result. Probably the only two people who contributed more to India’s victorious campaign were Yuvraj Singh and Sachin Tendulkar.
For all Indian bowlers with more than 100 test wickets, Zaheer Khan has the best strike rate(Irfan Pathan has slightly better strike-rate but has taken exactly 100 wickets). In test matches won by India when he was playing, Zaheer took 149 wickets at an average of 25 taking a wicket every 8 overs he bowled. Post his stint in English county for Worcestershire in 2006, Zaheer became an extremely smart bowler. His control with the duke ball was exceptional. With the SG ball(the one used in India) he was a threat not just with new ball, but also with the old ball as he used reverse swing extremely effectively. In 2007’s Nottingham test, the left-armer picked 9 wickets to win India the game and helped us claim a historic series win in England after 21 years. That most definitely is one of my favourite Zaheer performances.
Had Zaheer had remained injury-free, he would have undoubtedly managed 350 plus wickets in both the formats, at least. Not only was he, a very capable leader of India’s bowling attack when they reached the #1 spot in tests and won the world cup, at his best, he was among the best in the world. Of course, looking at his dodgy fitness and plans for 2015, India had to look ahead. Whether or not, he will make it to India’s squad again, that only time will tell. However, to forget the contribution of this wonderful bowler would be just plain silly.