Is it the beginning of the end of Zaheer Khan's career?
Zaheer Khan was dropped from the squad for the fourth Test against England. Rediff.com's Harish Kotian, delving on the reasons and consequences of this bold move by the selectors, asks if it means the beginning of the end for India's premier speedster?
After another crushing defeat in the third Test in Kolkata the Indian selectors were left with no choice but take a few harsh decisions for the do-or-die fourth and final Test against England in Nagpur.
It was the first time in 12 years that India had lost back-to-back Test matches at home, and something needed be done to stem the rot.
India had lost two Tests in a row against South Africa, in Mumbai and Bangalore in 2000, and after a decade of domination at home, things were slowly starting to fall apart. Something had to done, and the selectors made the first move and sent a strong signal to the players: perform or perish.
As expected, the non-performing senior duo of Yuvraj Singh and Zaheer Khan were shown the door. Harbhajan Singh could not make most of the limited opportunities he got during the second Test in Mumbai before being benched for the third match and was axed for the next one.
While Yuvraj and Harbhajan could well keep staking claims for a place in the Test side in the future, it seems the door is now completely shut on Zaheer.
Image: Zaheer Khan
Awana, Dinda have won Test spots after domestic success
The new selection committee, under Sandeep Patil, showed it is looking to the future by retaining the young Ishant Sharma, despite him making a lacklustre comeback to the team in the third Test in Kolkata, with a solitary wicket from 29 overs.
It is no secret that Zaheer bowled better than Ishant, but, clearly, he has fallen out of favour with the selectors, his fitness being the major area of concern.
Bengal's Ashok Dinda and Delhi pacer Parvinder Awana have made it to the Test squad on the basis of their consistent showing in domestic cricket.
While Awana has taken 131 wickets in 40 first class matches, at a strike rate of 53.4, Dinda was in the fray since the last few years with his record of 194 wickets in 54 first class games, at a strike rate of 56.5.Zaheer's decline has been rapid in the last couple of seasons. It is not form, but poor fitness that did him in.
Image: Ashok Dinda
Zaheer dogged by fitness problems
In the three Tests of the ongoing series against England, he picked just four wickets in 88.3 overs, at a strike rate of 132.7, which means a wicket every 22 overs.
In 2012, the 34-year-old pacer claimed 15 wickets in eight Tests, at a strike rate of 97.9, clearly showing that age was slowly taking a toll on him.
Compare this to 2010, when he played a full season, without any injury woes, and claimed 47 wickets in nine matches, at a strike rate of 39.8.
In fact, he suffered cramps before the start of this series while playing for Mumbai in a Ranji Trophy match. Though he recovered in time for the start of the first Test, one got the feeling he was not even close to his best, with pace or his swing.
Zaheer has also not been included in the side for the two-match T20 series against England, scheduled to start immediately after the Tests, with the BCCI saying he is "unavailable" without giving any further reasons for the same.With his slowness in the field and drop in pace, it will be impossible for him to make it to the One-Day International side too.
Image: Zaheer Khan
'Will be important to see selectors' vision'
Former India captain Sunil Gavaskar also supported Zaheer's exclusion saying 'it was expected', though he was not sure about the axing of Yuvraj and Harbhajan.
Just a couple of days back, India's bowling coach Joe Dawes had rated Zaheer 'among the top six bowlers in the world', but the selectors' decision showed that they don't even consider Zaheer as the best fast bowler in the country.
It also proved the lack of communication between the team management and selectors.
During the World T20 in Sri Lanka in September, Dhoni had called Zaheer 'the Sachin Tendulkar of the bowling attack'. Now it appears that the time has finally come when both Tendulkar and Zaheer will lose their Test spots, either by choice or by force.
Former chairman of selectors Kiran More, on Saturday, had asked the new selection panel to decide whether they wanted to pick a team just to win the final Test in Nagpur or with the team's future in mind.
'It will be important to see what the selectors' vision will be, whether they want to pick a team just for the last Test or they want to pick players for the future,' he told Rediff.com.It seems they have decided to invest in the future. With India having a horrendous run at present, it was no surprise that they decided to look ahead.
Image: Zaheer Khan