Perth: A bright spot on India's tour of gloom has been that Zaheer Khan has made it to Perth. That on his third tour to Australia, Zaheer is making it to the third Test. Australia are an opposition Zaheer has cherished but it is not a country he has accumulated air miles in.
Tours to Australia have been a particular low point for him. On his first tour here, in 2003-04, Zaheer came down with a mysterious injury - hamstring first and discovered to be a nerve twitch later. The injury troubled him for the best part of the next two years. In 2007-08, he came here as a much more promising prospect, but lasted just one Test.
Zaheer is mature enough to see the lighter side of things. "I have finally passed the Sydney hurdle," he said. "This is the first time I am coming to Perth. Really excited about it, really looking forward to it. There has been a lot of talk about how the wicket is going to play in such and such manner. So really excited about the whole talk and the vibe going around."
More than coming to a fast bowler's paradise, Zaheer is happy at making it so deep into a series in Australia. For all the help Perth is known to afford fast bowlers, Zaheer hardly ever relies on express pace. "Honestly for me what is important is hitting the right areas and getting the rhythm going," Zaheer said. "Doesn't matter what kind of pitch it is, the distance between the wickets is going to remain 22 yards."
Zaheer has taken 10 wickets at 25.20 so far in the series. There, though, ends cause for celebration. He is part of a side trailing 2-0. He is part of a side that conceded 622 runs for one wicket after having the opposition down at 3 for 37. He was asked to rate the bowling unit so far.
"Melbourne was fantastic," Zaheer said. "We always put the team under pressure as a bowling unit. Everyone chipped in. Everyone bowled in good areas. Sydney, I felt the wicket on the first day and the second day there was a big difference. No excuses, but everyone could see that as the match progressed the wicket kind of eased off. That nip and movement in the pitch was not exactly the same as the first day. Considering all that, we have put in a good effort as a bowling unit. Going forward we are confident as a bowling unit of taking 20 wickets."
Zaheer has for long been India's bowling captain, and analysed his younger colleagues. "Ishant Sharma has played on this ground before," Zaheer said. "He came into reckoning from this ground. I am sure he has got fond memories of this ground. It is definitely going to be useful to get that rhythm back, get among the wickets, which is very important. I feel he is bowing well. It's just a matter of time."
Zaheer said the team can continue to allow Umesh Yadav some freedom and room to make mistakes. "[It is] just a beginning for him in the international arena," Zaheer said. "The way he is bowling I am very happy; the way he is taking the responsibility. I think that freedom is important for him. At this age, especially four-five Test matches in, you are allowed to make mistakes. What is important is how you are approaching the game. What attitude you bring to the ground. I am very happy with his attitude. He is a wicket-taker, so that is what his job will be going forward."
Zaheer did admit that they needed to finish things off better. "As a bowling unit we have been doing the right things," he said. "It all depends on the conditions as well, but in helpful conditions I still believe this Australian line-up can be put under pressure. We have been kind of getting them under pressure, and then just letting go of the momentum a little bit. There are a few areas we need to focus on. I am sure in the coming matches we will be able to rectify that."
The pitch at the WACA is likely to provide them assistance. Three days before the match, it looked lush green. It might have been left so to guard against the sun, which has been quite harsh in the lead-up to the game. Even if they shave it off further, the ground staff are expecting about 20% more carry than it had when India last played here, and won. The same assistance, though, will be available to Australian bowlers too, and they have had India under the pump so far in the series.
Zaheer said the team was in a good space in the lead-up to the match. "We are very focussed and quietly confident," he said. "This is not the first time we have been put in such a situation. In the past we have come out of these situations. That confidence is definitely there in the team. It's showing in the practice. There is a good vibe. There is that focus around in the dressing room, which is a positive sign."