Few Indian fast bowlers have managed o have an impact the kind Zaheer Khan did. The left-arm seam bowler will go down as one of the very best Indian cricket has ever produced; perhaps only after Kapil Dev and Javagal Srinath.
Had his career not been riddled with injuries, Zaheer would have added much more to his tally of 311 Test and 282 ODI wickets. Regardless, there is no denying that in his prime Zaheer was one of the most dangerous seam bowlers around and had played a vital part in Team India’s resurgence in the mid-2000s with his umpteen match-winning performances.
Born in Shrirampur, Maharashtra, on October 7, Zaheer Khan celebrates his 39th birthday today. On this special let us look back at the Indian pace legend’s five greatest performances.
5-29 v New Zealand at Wellington, 2002 (Test):
India’s tour to New Zealand in 2002 is not recalled fondly by Indian fans because of the way their team was steamrolled by the opposition on those ultra-seaming tracks. In the second Test of the series at Hamilton, another green top was served to the visitors and India was shot out for just 99 after being put in. However, when they came in to bowl, Indian seamer Zaheer Khan ripped the opposition apart. Utilizing the seam and swing on the grassy pitch beautifully, Khan moved the ball and made life hell for the New Zealand top order immediately. He first uprooted both the openers and then snared captain Stephen Fleming. Later, Khan returned for another quick burst and polished off the tail with two wick wickets to end up with a brilliant 5-29 that helped bundle the Kiwis out for just 94. Although India lost the match eventually, Zaheer’s excellent performance had given the visitors a fighting chance in the match.
5-75 v England at Nottingham, 2007 (Test):
This was one of the most pivotal performances of Zaheer’s career. In the second Test at Nottingham on India’s tour to England in 2007, Zaheer was all over the home team by first producing a superb spell of 4-59 in the first innings and restricting England to just 198. Then, as England attempted to overhaul India’s first innings score of 481 in their second foray, Zaheer pegged them back again. Although the pitch was true, and the English batsmen were putting up a fight, Zaheer kept hurting them regularly. He was getting considerable bounce from the pitch and extracted a lot of seam movement as well. Zaheer first got rid of the two openers and just when the middle-order was settling into a big partnership, he came back and removed the set duo of Michael Vaughan (124) and Paul Collingwood (63), along with Ian Bell for a duck. That helped open the floodgates and England was soon dismissed for 355 with Zaheer courtesy Zaheer’s tremendous spell of 5-75. India went on to win this memorable match by seven wickets.
5-95 v Australia at Brisbane, 2003 (Test):
Often, the visiting Indian teams to Australia put up their worst show in the first Test itself. India’s tour to Australia in 2003 was brought alive by Zaheer Khan who rattled the Australian batting in the very first Test of the series at Brisbane. Batting first on a seaming track, Australia had started off well and were coasting at one stage, but then Zaheer rocked their middle order. After accounting for Ricky Ponting and Mathew Hayden, Zaheer got the crucial wicket of captain Steve Waugh for naught. The left-arm then removed Simon Katich and got Adam Gilchrist with an absolute beauty to leave Australia in tatters. Zaheer’s spectacular spell of 5-95, resulted in the home side being bundled out for 323 from 268-2. The rain-hit game, however, ended in a draw. But it was Zaheer Khan who had given India an opportunity to enforce the initiative through his magnificent bowling performance.
4-42 v New Zealand at Centurion, 2003 (ODI):
This was India’s crucial Super Six match at the 2003 World Cup in South Africa against New Zealand. India needed to win to stay alive in the competition and after winning the toss Sourav Ganguly decided to bowl first. It turned out to be a superb decision as Zaheer Khan simply ripped through the Kiwi batting order within no time. Zaheer removed the dangerous Craig McMillan and Nathan Astle off successive balls in the very over of the match with two incredible inswinging deliveries. He later accounted for Brendon McCullum and Chris Cairns to leave New Zealand in absolute shambles. At the end of his eight overs, Zaheer had figures of 4-42 and New Zealand had been bundled out for just 146. India went on to comfortably win the match by seven wickets.
4-21 v Sri Lanka at Dambulla, 2008 (ODI):
Thwarting Sri Lanka on their own home turf is never easy; especially back in the mid-2000s when they had some true batting greats in their lineup. In the second ODI of India’s tour to Sri Lanka in 2008, though, India managed to rout the home team as Zaheer Khan produced a sensational performance on a slow Dambulla pitch. The ball moved just enough to help the left-arm pacer and he began troubling the batsmen with his nagging lines straight away. Zaheer tore into the Sri Lankan top order and swiftly removed the likes of Sanath Jayasuriya, Kumara Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene. He also added the wicket of Chamara Kapugedera to his tally to end with a terrific 4-21 – his third-best figures in ODI cricket. Sri Lanka was packed off for just 142 and India won the match with seven wickets to spare.