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Practice pays off for Zaheer

October 09, 2003 19:08 IST

Last week, Zaheer Khan was in Mumbai, training at the Cricket Club of India along with Ashish Nehra, under the watchful eyes of India's new physical trainer, Greg King.

It was an interesting bowling session. There was a square, marked by four cones. They were placed about six feet in front of the batting crease and Zaheer was concentrating on bowling at a single stump in that square for four days.

I asked him what was the idea behind that exercise.

"I am just trying to get my length right for the home series against New Zealand," he replied. "In India it is important to hit the right length and be patient."

With his three-wicket burst against the Kiwis today, on a benign wicket, which offered no seam movement, Zaheer varied his length and castled Mark Richardson and Stephen Fleming, and angled one across Lou Vincent to induce an edge to the keeper.

I had also asked him about his plans for the New Zealanders.

He elaborated: "Our aim will be to try and provide initial breakthroughs and then support Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble. Mark Richardson is the key man. We must not let them get a good start. That is very important. Fleming and [Nathan] Astle can get dangerous if they get off to a start."

The left-armer was undaunted by the fact that he would be spearheading the attack.

"I concentrate on my role well. I do whatever the team requires without bothering whether I am the lead bowler, or the wicket-taking bowler or the support bowler. Early breakthroughs are important.

"I always see it from my angle. In cricket, it is important to break partnerships when they get going and taking wickets," he said.

He also refused to join the pace race.

"I am very happy with my pace. Pace is important but not everything. Just to beat batsmen with pace is not enough. The speedometer does not matter to me. It is important to be consistent with pace and deceive the batsman with change of pace and altering lengths."

Discussing the additions to his bowling armoury, Zaheer revealed that fitness was the main addition.

"I have changed a lot over the past year-and-a-half. I have also developed my incoming delivery to the right-handers; it helps in getting more leg-before decisions."

Despite having honed his skills on the shirtfront wickets of India, Zaheer does not bother or complain about them.

"I enjoy bowling on any tracks. Bowling on Indian tracks has been challenging and I have learnt a lot, most importantly about persevering."

Nor does he complain about the game being dominated by batsmen.

"There is sufficient number of bouncers. It is a fair game. I would not want to change anything."

He was, however, sad about losing the World Cup final.

"The World Cup was in our stride. We know we could have done it. It was an important day for all of us on the field. We tried our best and they tried their best. We couldn't deliver but we tried.

"I look forward though. But I am looking ahead and learning from each game."

What has been the key to succeeding on the international circuit?

"International cricket is about coping with pressure. To do well is a challenge. Failure along with success is a reality. I always dreamt of playing for India. The feeling of playing for India has been great. For a small town boy to get into the team and be with the stars has been amazing."

Indeed, the small town boy from Srirampur has come a long way.

Faisal Shariff