Benoni: Veteran speedster Zaheer Khan, who will be spearheading the Indian pace attack in the two-Test series, feels that one needs to make some adjustments on the "hit the deck" kind of surfaces in South Africa having done bulk of the bowling on the sub-continental featherbeds. (Click here for full coverage on India's tour of South Africa)
"For a seam bowler, it is important to get the ball in the right areas. The wickets here are more on the sort of hit-the-deck kind of wickets. That adjustment you will probably have to make as a bowler coming from India," the 35-year-old said during a press conference on the eve of India's warm-up game against SA Invitational XI.
A veteran of 88 Tests, Zaheer has been a part of both the Indian teams that won a Test match each during their previous tours of 2006-07 and 2010-11 respectively. On the first occasion, it was a comeback tour for the left-arm pacer when they won a Test match under Rahul Dravid's captaincy in Johannesburg. On the second occasion, it was a victory in Durban under MS Dhoni's leadership.
Incidentally, India's both Tests will be held at these two venues and Zaheer's mantra is "self-belief". "First of all, you have got to back yourself and play good cricket. For any team to do well anywhere, you need to have good days together and keep coming back all the time and have the belief. So I would say that was our success mantra during the earlier tours and this tour also we will look to do the same," Zaheer said. (Also read: Kohli loses top ODI spot to AB de Villiers)
This is a new beginning for Zaheer, who was dropped due to poor form and fitness that affected his performance during the home series against England. "I am very happy that finally, I am making a comeback. This is definitely the beginning of a new journey for me which I am definitely going to enjoy," Zaheer said.
Zaheer admitted that field restriction in ODI cricket has impacted the performance of the bowlers not just from India but from other countries as well. "Rule changes in ODIs have impacted everyone in death bowling not just Indian bowlers. As the matches went on, the bowling got better. In another week's time, things will be even better. To bowl with a white Kookaburra ball and a red ball, well there is a difference.
"But after whatever the players have seen and experienced, I am sure everyone is analyzing themselves. Come the Test series, it will be a different ball game," the wily left-armer said.
While the ODI team was busy playing the ODI series with the Proteas, the Test-specialists landed here few days back. Johannesburg has been their base and they have had a few net sessions. For Zaheer individually, the preparation began a long time ago.
After being dropped from the side last winter, he has been on a rigorous fitness regime, which took him to the France in the company of Yuvraj Singh and later to Bloemfontein, where he trained with a local side.
"When I decided that I had to make a comeback, I needed to have a strategy how to go about it. The first phase was in France and the second phase was with Adrian le Roux here at Bloemfontein. That was more on the skill-front, and I spent about three weeks here practising with the local side as well which was also a good help," said the old-guard.
A fitter and leaner Zaheer has made a comeback with the satisfaction of having worked hard to achieve it.
"Losing weight was one of the targets. What I really wanted to achieve was to recover in between spells and to come back and be on the ball from the first delivery. So, in terms of those aspects, I have ticked all the boxes.
"That's all I can say, it's not just about losing weight and putting muscles. Right now I am happy with the way I am able to sustain through a five-day game," he quipped.
Thereafter, Zaheer has played quite a bit of cricket, starting with two matches against the visiting West Indies' A side in October. Then, he turned out in four Ranji Trophy matches for Mumbai, picking up 16 wickets to go with seven against the Windies' A team.
"I couldn't be happier. I have played enough first-class cricket, bowling over 200 overs and I have covered all the areas as far as preparation is concerned."
Zaheer wants to focus on the practice game which will get him into the groove for the Test matches.
"Right now, we have one more practice game here which would obviously be of good help to get used to the altitude and acclimatise to the conditions. Thereafter, I will be looking forward to the Test match," he said.
Zaheer was asked about his strategy for rival captain Graeme Smith, who has been his 'bunny' having got out six times to the bowler in nine Test matches. "All I have to do is turn up," Zaheer said, jokingly.
"Having said that, Graeme has a fantastic record and he leads the side very well. So when you have that kind of an edge against someone who has a terrific Test record, it is obviously an advantage".
Getting early breakthroughs will be key as that will help the team get into a rhythm to make further inroads.
"It is very important for any fast bowling unit to pick up early wickets and that really sets the tone be it ODIs or Test matches. That is the responsibility of the opening bowlers and yes that will be a great help if you can get the inroads, especially with the red Kookaburra ball which does a lot."
He has been a veteran of many battles and prefers an on-field duel of cricketing skills rather than a verbal one off the field.
"Talks are talks. You can talk as much as you like outside. Once you go on to the field, it's all about doing. We have got a good, talented bunch of boys. It is just about having the belief of taking 20 wickets. That's what it's going to take to win a Test. And I think this Indian team will do the needful, whatever it's going to take to win this series," he signed off.