Now, Zaheer Khan bites the dust

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Zaheer Khan won’t bowl another ball in international cricket in England this series.

While his hamstring and ankle injury may be a consequence of the kind of cramped schedule Team India are subject to and the workload fast bowlers are forced to bear these days, there are enough signs that his handling of his fitness situation with regard to international commitments was at fault.

Having last bowled in international competition at the World Cup in early April, Zaheer turned out for Royal Challengers Bangalore in the IPL but later skipped the tour of the Caribbean. That was a logical decision. For, if Sachin Tendulkar is allowed to skip a series on the count of seeking ‘family time’, then everyone else should be allowed the same privilege too.

Where Zaheer did not pay sufficient attention to his comeback was in leaving everything to the one warm-up game against Somerset at Taunton before the Tests.

Not having bowled enough since sending down a full quota of 30 overs in Durban and 49.5 overs in the Cape Town Tests in 2010-11, Zaheer did not turn up in England early enough like Sachin did.

And today’s millionaire cricketers don’t need BCCI support to turn up early in England in order to acclimatise to conditions.

Having gone gingerly through the Somerset game, Zaheer bowled just 13.3 overs at Lord’s before pulling up with a hamstring. His was a disaster waiting to happen. For, once a bowler decides he is fit for a series he cannot hold himself back.

He has to bowl sufficient overs to ensure he is actually 100 percent fit. Otherwise, he is serving neither himself nor the country’s cause.

The issue is Zaheer and anyone else who gets injured seems more concerned about how to stretch their careers rather than throw everything they have into cricket for Team India even when they are 100 per cent fit. Of course, Zaheer is not the only one who had been quite cavalier about the preparation for such a series billed as the ‘Empire’ series.

An interesting question is would India have dared to play four fast bowlers in the Edgbaston Test if Zaheer was available? On the evidence of the first two Tests of the Empire series, it is clear Team India have been struggling to bowl England out.

Having had the guts to twice insert the home team in typical English conditions conducive to swing and seam, would India have bitten the bullet and shortened their batting to play five bowlers?

The move, however unlikely, would still have dripped with irony if the team management had been in a position to opt for a four-pronged pace attack at Edgbaston because that is the very venue where India played, for the first and only time in its history, all the spin bowlers of the famous quartet — Chandra, Bedi, Prasanna and Venkat. Don’t ask what happened in the match — India lost by 132 runs.

The swing from over-dependence on spin to the other extreme of banking on pace can be said to be complete in 44 years. India will be without Zaheer, the bowler who was chiefly instrumental in the team ascending to the No. 1 Test spot and in the World Cup victory.

With a battery of fast medium seamers to assist him, Zaheer led the Indian attack for years, in the process sealing the shift of emphasis to pace after Kapil Dev’s advent had spawned a whole load of fast bowling aspirants.

Without their main strike bowler, India may lose their top Test ranking even as early as the Edgbaston Test starting on Wednesday. The BCCI and the players should share the blame for things having come to such a pass.

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