Thursday, January 13, 2011

Zaheer Khan: Indian cricketer's march towards greatness

Speedster Zaheer Khan went past a major milestone during the Durban test match in South Africa. Though India won the test, the record didn't get due attention.

During the course of the test, Zaheer went past the record of the spin legend Bishan Singh Bedi whose record of 266 wickets was a landmark for bowlers for several years until Kapil Dev broke it in the 80s. Now Zaheer Khan has taken 271 wickets in just 78 tests.

Further, it is his magnificent strike rate that gives him an edge over all other Indian top bowlers. Zaheer's strike rate is 58.1, which is almost similar to Shane Warne and Courtney Walsh and much better than Kumble 65.9, Kapil 63.9 and Harbhajan Singh 67.3.

For a speedster, especially in India, it's no mean achievement. After all, Bedi was the bowler who led the famous spin quatret [chaukdi] that included Erapalli Prasanna, Bhagwat Chandrashekar and later Venkataraghavan.

As far as pace bowlers are concerned, our record has been fairly dismal and Zaheer is now well ahead of Javagal Srinath [236 wickets]. On pitches that offer less to medium pacers or fast bowlers, Zaheer's achievement is laudable.

Particularly, as he is now fourth in the list of highest wicket takers for India in test matches after Anil Kumble, Kapil Dev and Harbhajan Singh and only the second after Haryana Hurricane Kapil Dev among Indian pace bowlers. Till the advent of Kapil Dev, India relied heavily on spinners.

In fact, Abid Ali and Solkar often opened the bowling and a few overs later the ball would be handed over to the spinners. Till eighties, the only medium pace bowler with 100 wickets apart from Kapil Dev was Karsan Ghavri. [See below the table that shows record of Indian fast bowlers (medium pacers) with highest wickets]

Kapil Dev
Zaheer Khan
J Srinath
Karsan Ghavri
Irfan Pathan
Manoj Prabhakar
Venkatesh Prasad
Ishant Sharma
S Sreesanth
Ramakant Desai
Madan Lal
Dattu Phadkar

And this tells the story of Indian pace bowling. After the initial era when Amar Singh Ladha and Mohammad Nissar gave jitters to England in the pre-partition era, India's search for genuine quick bowlers continued. Though late 80s and early 90s saw the rise of several bowlers, none proved their potential.

The bowlers who came after Roger Binny and Madan Lal also retired early. Kapil was the lone warrior as even Manoj Prabhakar and Venkatesh Prasad couldn't go pass 100 wickets. It is in this backdrop that Zaheer's achievement get more important. In fact, he also suffered lack of good support from the other end.

For a period it was believed that he had lost his momentum and was dropped. But ever since his return to form, Zaheer is again the mainstay of Indian opening attack. Either it's Irfan Pathan or Ajit Agarkar, none of them fulfilled the potential. Zaheer also has 245 wickets in ODIs.

Though he doesn't lack in glamour quotient, Zaheer has managed to keep himself focused unlike Pathan who became more of a glamour boy.

Now a veteran with a career of 11 years in international cricket, 32-year-old Zaheer Khan's career proves that fast bowlers aren't a rare commodity in India.

Once a hot-headed player, the fast bowler from Maharashtra's Shrirampur is today an inspiration for cricket fans and budding cricketer. Also, the left-arm fast-medium speedster is among one of the most eligible bachelors.

He has remained mum on the questions that whether he was going to get married soon. With time he has evolved into a fine cricketer and better bowler. There is lot of cricket still left in him and definitely Zaheer is all set to entertain the cricket aficionados and serve Indian cricket for many years to come.