Colombo: The pressure is mounting on Zaheer Khan and with every passing day, his place in India’s T20 side is being questioned.
Earlier in the tournament, Virat Kohli had come out in defence of Zaheer by saying that his initial spells are good and it’s tough to blame a bowler for his performance in the slog overs because the batsmen have the license to go for the shots and sometimes, the bowlers are powerless to do anything at all.
On the eve of the last group match against England, Zaheer didn’t turn up for the optional nets session but the focus was still very much on his real value in the T20 side. He is older, he doesn’t get reverse swing, as a fielder he needs to be hidden on the field and conventional swing in Sri Lanka is hard to come by.
In his last four T20 matches, including the one against Afghanistan, he has managed two wickets and hasn’t completed his full quota of four overs in two of the games.
His figures against New Zealand were 1/27 in four overs and he followed that with 1/29 off four against Sri Lanka in the warm-up game.
Against Pakistan he conceded 31 runs off his 3 overs and against Afghanistan, an even more humiliating 32 runs off 3 overs. That’s a total of 14 overs , two wickets for 119 runs.
The question put to Dhoni was simple: Does India really need a Zaheer in the team?
His answer showed that at least for now, he has plenty of confidence in the player: "It’s easier to go after the bowler. If you look at his performance he shoud be given equal respect as Sachin Tendulkar gets. He is the Sachin for us when it comes to the bowling department. He has led the attack for the past few years.
"He has been our best bowler whatever the format may be. Maybe in the last few games he has not got wickets, whether it's Tests, ODIs or T20. We have a chance here to give him a few games, because we are at a point in tournament where we can do that."
But the faith of the Indian selectors and Dhoni in Sachin is unshakeable. Can we say the same for Zaheer as well? Will he pick him no matter what?
"Depends on the tournament and the combination. If you are playing with four bowlers and a part-timer, one of the bowlers can have an off day but if that one becomes two and you have a part-timer then you have a considerable amount of pressure on how to manage the resources.
"Whether to say YES to that will be difficult for me. But we are hoping that being the experienced cricketer that he is, he gets back and really does the job for us as a team."
The non-performance on the seniors would put pressure on the skipper as well. He can't just go ahead and drop them. He's pretty much boxed in.
"It does put a bit of a pressure. In this tournament, the points from the group stage are not carried into the super-eight but in the super-eight stage something like happens and you want to play the fifth bowler who do you drop." Dhoni added. "So it becomes a tricky situation. We are talking about match winners so you would like to give a longer rope to them so in the knock-out stage they start doing really well and win games for us."