Now 37 years old, Zaheer Khan retired from international cricket last month, bringing the curtain down on a 14-year career in which he has taken 311 wickets from 92 Tests and 282 wickets from 200 One-day Internationals.
In an emotional statement bidding farewell to the game he loves, Zaheer Khan spoke about how his mother's reaction to his decision to call time on his career summed it up perfectly: "Theek hai, bahut accha safar tha hamara" (Alright, it was a very good journey for us). This is a journey that saw him being hailed as one of the most clever bowlers to have graced the game, win a World Cup in India, and at the same time, succumb to one injury too many.
Firstpost's Jigar Mehta caught up with Zaheer last week at ProSport, the fast bowler’s fitness centre in Mumbai, to talk about all things fast bowling, the 2003 and 2011 World Cups and to discover which of Zaheer’s innings with the bat is his favourite.
Below is Part II of the interview. For Part I, click here.
How did you master the art of bowling with all three balls - SG, Dukes and Kookaburra? Which was the most difficult and which one did you enjoy most bowling with?
It actually depends on situation of the game also. Different ball acts differently. Like with a Kookaburra ball you would probably look to go flat out with the new ball, because the seam is prominent in first 25-30 overs so you look to maximize the benefits and then hope for the ball to reverse. With the SG ball it was always the case of keeping that initial burst smaller and wait for the ball to assist either conventional or reverse swing and then attack more. Similarly with the Dukes ball. Dukes and SG balls are pretty similar in nature because both have a prominent seam so you can actually play with them a bit more. I have enjoyed bowling with all the three balls.
Take us through the development of the knuckle ball, how did you decide to develop it?
I had seen that some of the bowlers at international were trying to use it. It just came very easily for me when I started using it but the journey to mastering it took about a year, a year and a half long. I was practicing it in the nets and it was going all over the place but every time it used to come right, it used to be very difficult for the batter to pick because the ball actually goes on the seam so it's that much harder for a batter to pick it. When it actually started coming out alright, it kind of gave me that confidence. I waited to use that particular delivery for the World Cup 2011. About a couple of months before the World Cup, it used to land consistently in the nets but I stayed away from using it in the other games and just waited for the World Cup to start and used it in that tournament.
Many fondly remember that delivery which cleaned up Michael Hussey in Motera in the 2011 World Cup quarter-finals. When it came off successfully in the World Cup, how much satisfaction did it give you?
I think right throughout the World Cup, it worked well for me. It was a great asset for me to have in my armoury. For a one-day game, you need to have that pace variation. The other slower one which I was bowling was not really that effective, in my mind. Obviously there was always a risk because I used to break my wrist and it gives batter
also that much fraction of second extra to pick it. Because this ball was landing nicely and it was a great pace variation, I was able to restrict and win those crucial pressure situations in crucial games. Like you rightly mentioned, be it the England tied game in the group stage, the Australia game in the knock-outs or the semi-finals and finals also. So I picked up lot of wickets on that delivery in the World Cup which I was very happy about.
Did you decide to develop that ball after getting influenced by a particular bowler?
No. It just happened, it was just a process of trying new things. I tried to bowl back of the hand slower one as well but because of my action and may be the flexibility in the shoulder, it wasn't coming the way I wanted it to.
So before trying the knuckle ball, I also tried different variations. Among those, the knuckle ball really worked for me.
What was the most satisfying thing for you as a fast bowler?
The most satisfying thing was just being there out on the field, enjoying the game. Cricket and bowling gives you a different high which nothing can really match. So it was the whole process of being out there, working out batters in different situations is something which was always satisfying.
Which was the most satisfying spell you bowled in your career?
The whole of my county stint was satisfying. As I changed my run-up from long to short one and post that as I was playing, those entire six to seven years right till the time I was playing were all satisfying. It was a different approach, I was really enjoying because of the new control I had developed. So in all the matches which I have played post that, just being out there on the field has been satisfying.
So someday didn't you feel like, 'Man! I bowled a really good spell today?'
So many spells were there. I always used to look at having that impact on the game when you are picking two or three wickets in one spell be it ODIs or Test. I always felt that that really changes the course of the game. And I was lucky to have that kind of impact right till the last series I played. That's what was very satisfactory.
Tell us about your battles with Graeme Smith. How did you get the best of him?
(With a bigger smile) This question has been asked so many times (laughs). Well, basically I used to not think much. Because all the thinking was done by Smith that time. So I used to focus on all the other things, just used to think of getting the ball in right areas and just hope that he is confused enough. And if he is not, I would just kind of remind him (chuckles) what's been the case. That's all.
What exactly went wrong in the 2003 World Cup final?
It was a big stage, I was early in my career. The whole 2003 World Cup journey was amazing. We had reached the final, the team was playing so well. We had a great run, the pace battery was firing - Srinath, Ashish (Nehra), all the bowlers were at their best, doing well. In the final, obviously the emotions run high, it's a big stage.
Your mind is constantly thinking about the excitement of being in the final and winning the World Cup. So it was the same with me. As the National Anthem got over, there was a sudden rush of blood. As we were bowling early, I actually got a little more carried away with the whole approach. The first over was expensive and second one too and from then on it was hard for me to come back into the game. Also, the Australian team was playing well; they had a good and a stable team.
As a fast bowler, how did you approach sledging?
As a fast bowler you have to use sledging to your advantage. And sledging need not be using bad words as such. You can be clever in terms of triggering a though process in a batsman's mind in a negative way. So you as a bowler have to be clever in working it to your advantage. Over the years I have used it in different ways. Sometime if a batter is confused about what's coming at him, you just kind of tell him, "I know what's going on in your mind." Just to, kind of, make him even more insecure or make him act out of his comfort zone. There are certain batters you stay away from; they just get going with this kind of stuff. As a bowler you've got to be smart enough to know which batsman to go after and which batsman to back away from.
How frustrating is it for a sportsman to have their careers ended because of injuries?
It's all a part and parcel of the game. I've always looked at it that way. I've always endorsed that I want to play more and more matches. And as I was playing more and more, the body and rhythm kept going. I always used to stretch it to the maximum and as I have always been saying, control the controllable. Injuries are a part and parcel of the game and if you are injured, you are injured. So accept that fact, do the right things and when you come back, come back 120 percecnt fit not 100 percent.
Amidst all your bowling heroics, we forget about Zaheer Khan the batsman who played some crucial innings, how much did you enjoy your batting?
I did have my good days. Bad days were more than good days (smiles). But it's just been a good process. As a batter you just want to contribute. So as a lower order batsman, depending on the situation, you just kind of make sure you give your best every time you get out on the field.
Which was the innings did you enjoy the most?
I think the fifty against Australia in the first innings of the first Test in Bangalore in 2008 and the partnership with Harbhajan Singh (80 runs for the 8th wicket, with India struggling at 232/5 after Australia had put up 430) was really good, it set the tone for the game and series as well (India went on to win the series 2-0). So it was more satisfying. I scored 57 and we managed to pull a draw in that Test. We were in a difficult situation in the first innings and just kind of got through that game.
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