Zaheer Khan is a man on a mission. The left-arm pacer who last played for India over nine months ago is keen to fulfill two ambitions before taking a call on his illustrious career.
Zaheer, regarded as the best Indian fast bowler after the legendary Kapil Dev, is eager to play 100 Tests and complete 300 Tests wickets, revealed his mentor and club coach Sudhir Naik.
Zaheer is currently 12 short of his 100th Test and five wickets away from reaching 300 wickets in the five-day game. "He is determined to get back into the Indian team.
He still has a lot of potential to play at the highest level. Practically, Zaheer has achieved whatever a fast bowler can in India. He is aiming for two more milestones - to play 100 Tests and take 300 wickets. That is what he is working for," Naik told MiD DAY yesterday.
Earlier this week, Zaheer was included in the India 'A' team for two four-day games against the West Indies 'A' later this month. Zaheer, who will turn 35 on October 7, is currently in South Africa training under sports conditioning and rehabilitation expert Adrian Le Roux. Yesterday after his third bowling session Zaheer tweeted: "Rhythm feeling good. Getting better each day."
Before flying to SA, Zaheer was in France training along with his India teammate Yuvraj Singh. The duo worked on their fitness with high performance physical trainer Tim Exeter, who has worked with the likes of Manchester United footballer Ryan Giggs.
"Zaheer has taken the help of the best professionals. He is working very hard on his fitness because that is what let him down earlier. He has shed a lot of weight. He is looking much slimmer. In fact, he looks like a 23-24 year-old boy now.
He will leave no stone unturned in getting back to top fitness," said Naik, who is also the chief selector of the senior Mumbai team. Zaheer has been battling injuries for quite some time now. A calf injury had forced him to miss the Ranji Trophy knockout matches for Mumbai as well as the Irani Trophy.
He pulled out of Indian Premier League VI with a side strain after just two matches for Royal Challengers Bangalore. Naik said Zaheer's injury was aggravated during Mumbai's Ranji league match against Madhya Pradesh. "It was a must-win game for Mumbai to qualify for the quarters. Zaheer had come off after experiencing some niggle in his ankle.
The dressing room atmosphere was tense. He decided to have a go again as it was a crucial game for Mumbai. He took five wickets and Mumbai won a thriller," said Naik.
It is not just fitness, but also form that led to Zaheer's ouster from the national team. He last played an international match - the third Test against England in Kolkata - in December 2012. He bowled 31 overs and took a wicket in the first innings.
He was not required to bowl in the second outing. The axing for the last Test was on the cards as Zaheer had claimed only three wickets in the series.
Youngsters like Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Umesh Yadav have grabbed their chances with good performances in Zaheer's absence. "Yes, there is competition for Zaheer to earn his place in the Indian team. I feel the selectors would be eager to see his fitness.
"Talent-wise, he is still far more superior than the rest. His major concern is fitness which is quite natural as no one would want a half-fit player in the team. If Zaheer is fully fit, I am sure he will travel to South Africa. He is a much more experienced bowler," Naik signed off.