Centurion:India find themselves in their usual predicament of having to start a series without one of their big players. This time, on a tour of reckoning of sorts, it's their best bowler over the last three years, Zaheer Khan, who is struggling with a hamstring injury and is doubtful for the Centurion Test starting Thursday, MS Dhoni has said.
"Zak has been our best bowler who has always led the bowling attack, whatever the conditions may be, whether it is a flat track or a seaming track," Dhoni said on the eve of the first Test.
"He is always one bowler who has done really well. It is a blow, but at the same time we have to see the longer picture. We have to think about the World Cup also. We are so close to the World Cup, and any injury to any of your best 11 players may have a bigger impact, so that's also a bit of a concern. Till we are 100% sure about his fitness and injury, we won't risk playing him."
Over the two full training days in Centurion leading up to the Test, Zaheer bowled only a few overs in the nets. On the first day, he only did fitness drills with Paul Close, the team physio.
On the second, Zaheer manned the goal in a warm-up football game before working out with Close and bowling a few overs in the nets.
India didn't train on the eve of the match because it was raining in Johannesburg; at any rate they only do light training on the day before the match.
While Dhoni might not have sounded very hopeful, team sources didn't quite rule out Zaheer making the first Test. It is the nature of the injury - hamstring, and not picked by scans until two days ago - that makes the Indian team wary.
If he risks playing, and aggravates the injury early on in the game, not only will he be gone for the whole Test, but for much longer, for these injuries take some time healing.