In every cricketer's history, there comes a turning point; an instant in time when he teeters on the edge, between greatness and oblivion.
For Zaheer, that moment came in Pakistan, in early 2006. In a one-day series that India won on the back of some exceptional performances with bat and ball, the left-arm seamer was the noticeable exception. In the course of four games, he bowled 32 overs, gave away 203 runs, and managed a grand total of three wickets at an unaffordable average of 67.66 and a strike rate of one wicket ever 63 deliveries.
For the national selectors, he had become an unaffordable luxury. He was dropped, and his senior team-mates did not rise to his defense.
That could have been the end, right there -- but Zaheer, who has through his career tended to take his place in the side for granted, was jolted by the axe.
A player who till then was ready with a quote whenever journalists called, went into a shell. In perhaps the only interview he gave during those dark days, he told a journalist from a cricket Web site that he desperately wanted a second chance.
'I miss being part of the Indian team,' he said plaintively.
His critics had always said he had no heart; that he could not take a beating and fight back. This was his opportunity to disprove that assessment, and he grabbed it with a single-minded focus that surprised his fans, and even some of his team-mates.
India in the United Kingdom 2007