New Delhi: India's pace spearhead, Zaheer Khan, turns 33 on Friday and while he may be out of the national team currently, his contribution to India's bowling has been immense.
The left-handed pace bowler who made his ODI debut against Kenya in October of 2000 has matured as a player over the course of his career and despite nagging injuries and fitness problems in recent years, continues to have the potential to deliver for his team, whether national or state, for some time to come. A genuine seamer, Zaheer has had the ability to swing the ball both ways and has been appreciated on several occasions by legendary fast bowlers in the sport including Pakistan's Wasim Akram.
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It has not been a cake-walk for Zaheer however and he has had to prove his abilities repeatedly since being included in the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore, in 2000. His Test debut came soon after when he took 3 wickets against Bangladesh, bowling with Javagal Srinath and Ajit Agarkar under the leadership of Sourav Ganguly.
Recurring hamstring injuries hounded Zaheer soon after and 2003 and 2004 had been the most testing for the bowler. As a consequent, Zaheer was demoted from B-grade to C-grade by the Board of Control for Cricket in India in it's list of centrally contracted players. Zaheer however, kept working on his talent to trouble batsmen with his swing and made it back with a bang. Domestic career also took a turn for better when he transferred to Mumbai from Baroda at the start of the 2006-07 Ranji season. He took 9 wickets in the opening match against Bengal.
County cricket in England has also been a good testing ground for him as Zaheer managed to claim 10 wickets for Worcestershire in his debut match in 2006. He became the first Worcestershire player in 100 years to take 10 wickets on debut.
In the following years, Zaheer's rise was seen much for his wicket-taking abilities but some also regard the slump in form of Irfan Pathan and injury to Munaf as reasons why Zaheer got the opportunity to make it to the national team.
With several man-of-the-match awards to his credit, Zaheer has hardly looked back although in recent months, his long-standing problems with his troubled hamstring has returned to hound him. The most recent instance was on the tour of England where he pulled out while bowling in the first Test at Lord's and eventually had to miss the entire series. An Arjuna award earlier this year will surely boost his confidence as he recovers from an ankle surgery. Zaheer even said recently that he has not set a time-frame within which, he expects to get himself back in contention for selection to the national team.
With a more conscious approach to his fitness and proper management of his strains and injuries however, Zaheer can ensure that his services benefit the Indian team in matches to come.