Although India's poor bowling performance against New Zealand in the recently concluded Test match series drew criticism from most former cricketers including Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly, one of Pakistan's most celebrated cricketers, Wasim Akram has come out in support of veteran pace bowler Zaheer Khan, saying that his experience will be key in helping develop new fast bowlers in MS Dhoni's side.
Akram said that the role of senior players like Zaheer was crucial in the Indian side, as he could help young bowlers in difficult situations. "Other than taking wickets Zaheer's responsibility should help make one or two good fast bowlers before he exits cricket," the former Pakistan bowler told ESPNCricinfo. (Read more)
Thirty-five-year-old Zaheer was expected to be the key bowler for India in both the South Africa and New Zealand tours considering his experience but he could not make much of an impact and the Indian bowling attack clearly lacked motivation. In the four Tests since returning to the side, Zaheer has taken 16 wickets including a five-wicket haul in the second Test against New Zealand in Wellington.
"It is very rare that you make a comeback having played 90 Tests. So it is just not your bowling but also your reputation at stake," Akram added. "But in the time left before he finally retires, Zaheer has the opportunity to contribute a lot still. Like Imran [Khan] did with myself and Waqar [Younis], Zak can stand at mid-on and mid-off and teach other bowlers skills like reverse swing, have a word with the young fast bowlers when things are not going well."
Team India players recently returned home after a disappointing tour of New Zealand, where they missed ample opportunities to win many matches before giving them away to the hosts. Before the New Zealand tour, India had continued to pile up unsatisfactory performances abroad by losing both the Test and the one-day series in South Africa and ended up winning not even a single match on both outings.
Akram said that in situations when Dhoni was worried about why bowlers were not taking any wickets, Zaheer's advice could be positive for pacers like Ishant Sharma, who has also had psychological issues in the past.
"Dhoni cannot speak from behind the wickets. Ishant no doubt bowled well during the series, but no wicket for 160-odd runs it means he had some psychological issues. So it is for Zak to take the initiative to figure out what Ishant's plan was and talk to him accordingly. If the pitch is flat, wickets are not coming, then how does one stop the runs are things that have to be spoken about. Other than taking wickets Zaheer's responsibility should help make one or two good fast bowlers before he exits cricket," said Akram referring to the time when New Zealand skipper Brendon McCullum scored a triple ton. (Will cherish my triple ton forever: McCullum)
Former Indian skipper Rahul Dravid had earlier told Zaheer to think about his cricketing future and whether all the hard work at this age was even necessary. "He has been a great bowler for India, arguably the finest India fast bowler since Kapil Dev. I would hate to see Zaheer Khan end his career bowling 120-125 kph and limp away from international cricket," Dravid said. (Dravid cautions Zaheer about future)
Former India bowling coach Eric Simons, however, had nice things to say about Zaheer, and suggested he could go longer because he did not rely on speed. "Zaheer is not a very physical bowler. Zaheer is lot more tactical in his approach, lot more skillful in the sense he has relied more on swinging the ball and using the variations to be successful. And he will just end up relying more and more on those skills as time goes along," Simons said. (Take risks to win abroad: Dravid tells Dhoni)