Fanie de Villiers, the erstwhile South Africa fast bowler, has watched quite a bit of Zaheer Khan ever since the left-arm pacer made his first Test tour to the Rainbow Nation in 2001.
A dozen years later, he is happy that Zaheer has earned a recall to the Indian Test team for the forthcoming two-Test series in South Africa. However, De Villiers is forthright when it comes to analysing the pacer and what it will take to succeed in the Test series. "Zaheer has always been an effective left-arm fast bowler - somebody that any batsman will worry about. (Top-5 Indians to watch out for)
But he has always lacked the express pace of a Dale Steyn and the top guys. I have always believed he can run in quicker. I felt that his approach is not strong and quick enough for him to generate the pace he can generate. If I were his coach, I will get him to make that ball quicker and effective.
"If he is stronger and runs in quicker, he will swing the ball more because he will have more power behind the ball. That will make him swing the ball even more than he used to. I used to lose pace and swing, but the moment I got my pace back, I got my swing back," De Villiers told MiD DAY from Centurion.
A former World No 1 ranked fast bowler, De Villiers (49) was known for his deadly off-cutters. He claimed 85 wickets in 18 Tests. He stressed on the utility of Zaheer's breed: "A left-arm fast bowler is a scarce commodity and if you have got one with the right attitude and capacity when it comes to training, then you have a serious fast bowler.
Hopefully, Zaheer has got a wake-up call and is back to his old fitness again. Sometimes, senior players get complacent, they are happy with where they are. The drive is not there and sometimes a wake-up call is the best thing one can have. A lot of good players get dropped because of the lack of pace, strength, fitness and killer instinct. I don't know whether that was the case with Zaheer."
This is India's first tour to South Africa without the recently retired Sachin Tendulkar, a batsman De Villiers dismissed on four occasions in 17 one-day internationals since they first squared up to each other on India's SA tour of 1992-93. He reckoned Tendulkar would be sorely missed: "You must understand that Tendulkar's influence was not restricted to his batting. He influenced the team, the morale and everything in the side.
He will be missed for his inputs and support and the cohesiveness that he brought in." De Villiers reckoned that it would be most interesting to see how India's young batsmen fare on the challenging SA tracks. "The most important facet will be to handle the bounce. Fast bowlers can come and go, but your top batsmen can't come and go. You need guys to handle South Africa's pace and bounce. That is going to be the key factor here."