Once India’s pace bowling spearhead, left-armer Zaheer Khan has been omitted from India’s squad that will tour England for five Tests. The decision was on expected lines since the 35-year-old hasn’t shown the find of form and fitness expect of him since his international comeback. Even in the few IPL games that he played, he did nothing of significance. And considering the fact that these days, unfortunately, IPL matches are also taken into the reckoning while looking at a player’s form and fitness, the door was shut for Zaheer as the team for England was announced.
In his short return to the Indian Test side, Zaheer toured South Africa and New Zealand, and India lost in both countries. As for his performance, Zaheer was good in phases without being exceptional. He got a few wickets at Johannesburg and again at Wellington, but never threatened to run through the opposition. In the other Tests, he was nothing more than average. The time when he could run through opponents is well past him. With age, pace and potency have deserted the left-armer, and while he has tried to make up for it will guile and experience, his fitness hasn’t allowed him to bloom consistently.
Concern over his fitness is perhaps the key factor why selectors have decided not to risk Zaheer for the long tour of England. Unlike the tours of South Africa and New Zealand, the Indian touring party will feature in five Tests in England. Also, there won’t be much of a gap between Tests considering India’s tight international schedule. India haven’t played a five-Test series in over a decade, and considering Zaheer’s affinity to break down, it would have been too big a risk to book a seat for Zaheer on the flight to England.
While finalising the team, the selectors’ mind would have undoubtedly gone back to England 2011. Zaheer limped off hardly half an hour into the first Test, and was not seen for the rest of the series. India went on to lose all Tests in England without him, and Zaheer’s career has constantly been on the downslide since although he has managed a couple of comebacks. It could be debated that with the lack of resources in the fast bowling department, India could have done with Zaheer’s experience, but that experiment has been given a decent run, and hasn’t produced desired results. It is thus time to move on.
The question thus arises, what does the future hold for Zaheer? To put it bluntly, if he indeed gets another recall to the Indian squad, it would be a miracle. Zaheer should accept that his days as an international cricketer are over. Without doubt, the left-arm seamer has been the country’s best fast bowler since Kapil Dev, even better than Javagal Srinath. But, that doesn’t merit him a place in the Indian Test squad anymore even though India haven’t found his replacement. The sooner the realisation dawns on him, the easier it will be for Zaheer to make the retirement decision.
--By A Cricket Analyst