Mumbai: Those who have seen the evolution of Zaheer Khan from a shrill youngster, who let distractions get the better of him, to a master craftsman, the most skilful fast bowler in the world, must know about hardships the left-armer had gone through to reach his zenith.
When he finished the 2011 World Cup as the leading wicket-taker, Zaheer could at last put behind the nightmarish memories of Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden taking him to the cleaners at The Wanderers eight years ago.
The two seamers, who bowled alongside him, Ashish Nehra and Javagal Srinath, have hailed the resurgence of the 'Zak Attack'.
"Zaheer has played a monumental role in India winning the World Cup. In the game against England, it was Zaheer, who helped us claw back. Against South Africa, he was the one, who took the game down to the wire," Srinath told MiD DAY.
"To finish as the tournament's leading wicket-taker speaks volume of his ability to bowl on flat sub-continent wickets. There aren't too many pacers in the world, who understand these conditions better than Zaheer. "He bowled really well and quick in 2003, but this time he held his nerve at crucial times. That's the sort of maturity that has come into his game," added Srinath.
When Zaheer returned from the tour of Pakistan in 2006, the likes of S Sreesanth, RP Singh, Irfan Pathan and VRV Singh were ahead in the pecking order in India's growing pace battery. The turning point came during the 2006-07 Ranji Trophy final when Zaheer took nine wickets against Bengal.
"I haven't seen anybody suffer through injuries like him, and bounce back to become the best in the world. He is a master bowler, knows exactly what to do with both the new and old ball. The young pacers in the side are lucky that Zaheer is there to guide them," Nehra told MiD DAY.
Since coming back to the side in 2006-07, Zaheer has led India to Test series wins in England and New Zealand, two Test wins in South Africa, and a World Cup title.
"I knew he had the ability to bounce back. Not many expected him to evolve into such a crafty bowler. His greatest strength is that he studies the batsmen, understands their weaknesses, and bowls accordingly.
There's always a method behind every ball he delivers, you won't see him running in without purpose," said Nehra.
Asked to compare the difference between the Zaheer of 2003 and 2011, Nehra said: "2003 is behind us. Nobody will remember Zaheer for that spell, but for what he has achieved in the last three years."