Zaheer Khan: Assessing Cricket Star's Past and Future on His 35th Birthday

Alex TelferFeatured ColumnistOctober 7, 2013

COLOMBO, SRI LANKA - SEPTEMBER 19:  Zaheer Khan of India bowls during the  ICC World Twenty20 2012: Group A match between India and Afghanistan at R. Premadasa Stadium on September 19, 2012 in Colombo, Sri Lanka.  (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images,)
Gareth Copley/Getty Images

For a time, Zaheer Khan was arguably the best bowler in the world. Today, as he celebrates his 35th birthday, his international career is on a knife-edge.

Since being dropped from the Indian team ahead of the Kolkata Test against England in December, a calf injury has prevented Khan from playing any cricket apart from a couple of IPL games.

The left-armer has had to look on from the sidelines as the likes of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ishant Sharma have cemented their places in the line-up.

However, having recently returned in a low-key match for India A versus the West Indies, the skillful paceman is eager to reclaim his spot.


The Past

Khan announced himself on the international scene in 2000 by bowling Steve Waugh in the Champions Trophy quarter-final.

Fast and raw at the start of his career, it took him time to find the control that is often the key to taking wickets at the top level, while a succession of injuries continued to knock him back.

In fact, it wasn't until 2006 and a spell in English County cricket with Worcestershire where he claimed 76 scalps that signalled the arrival of a new, slicker Khan.

From that point on he was unstoppable and, in partnership with the disgraced Sreesanth, helped take India to the top of the rankings.

Khan claimed 150 Test wickets between the 2006/07 tour of South Africa up until the same tour came back around in 2010, also recording a career-best 7-for-87 against Bangladesh.

Unfortunately, injuries once again began to take their toll and, since the 6th January 2011, Khan has only claimed 24 scalps.


The Future

There is a tendency to assume India don't need Zaheer Khan anymore.

They have hammered Australia 4-0 in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, they won the ICC Champions Trophy in England and trips to the Caribbean and tour of Zimbabwe were also successful.

But with India playing cricket almost non-stop from now until mid February, reinforcements will be required.

Another factor is the surface. India's mauling of Australia was built primarily on spin with Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin taking an incredible 53 wickets between them.

With tough tours of South Africa and England on the horizon, places where slow bowlers' roles are going to be diminished, Khan's ability to move the ball both ways could be vital.

And if the birthday boy, who is taking things very seriously judging from the gruelling training camp he has undergone in France, can reclaim some form, then India's fourth-highest wicket-taker of all time could be back in business soon.