October 3, 2000, was a special day for Indian cricket. It marked the debut of a player who would go on to be one of India’s most skilled fast bowlers ever. Yes, I am talking about Zaheer Khan. His performances in the ICC Knockout tournament at Nairobi took India by storm. While India had a few fast bowlers at the time there was something different about Zak. His smooth run up to the wicket, his searing in-swinging Yorkers and the long jump that he used to have in those days was incredible to watch. Zak’s playing career can be divided into three phases – pre-2006, 2006 to 2011 and 2011 to 2014. In his career till 2006, he was known for his long run up, and jump at the crease. While he had the pace, his bowling lacked variations because of which, at times he could become predictable. He would face recurrent injury problems and loss of form and in 2005, he was dropped from the side. Wondering what he could do differently, he went to Worcestershire in England to play county cricket.
There he shortened his run up, learnt reverse swing and became one of the most intelligent thinkers of the game. When he returned, we saw a refined and fitter version of Zak, someone who was setting elaborate plans to outwit batsmen. Some of Zak’s best performances came from 2006 to 2011, like the Tour of England in 2007. But how can we talk about Zak without mentioning the 2011 World Cup? Before the World Cup, he was facing injury problems and some were doubting whether he could physically last the duration of the World Cup. But Zak being Zak, managed his work load intelligently and picked up 21 wickets in the series and propelled India to a World Cup win. During the period 2011 to 2014 while still a wily and intelligent bowler, Zak’s physical skills seemed to be on the decline. He seemed to struggle towards the latter part of the day or towards the end of a long Test series. His once potent reverse swing also wasn’t as effective as before.
Even though Zak retired from international cricket on 15th October 2015, I believe that he still has a lot to offer to Indian cricket. Promising bowlers like Deepak Chahar, Navdeep Saini, Khaleel Ahmed and Avesh Khan among others will form the backbone of the Indian bowling attack in the coming years and they need a good mentor, and who better to guide them than Zak! I truly believe that he will be an amazing Bowling Coach for India. While his views in the studios as an analyst and commentator are insightful, his true place is in the Indian Dressing Room. Zak got an Arjuna Award in 2011 and a Padma Shri in 2020. If he is selected as Bowling Coach of India, I predict that in a few years he will get a Dronacharya Award.