Zaheer Khan was, without a doubt, one of the greatest assets of Indian cricket. A country starved of fast-bowling talent, could not have stumbled upon a greater gift at the turn of the century when Javagal Srinath, India’s spearhead at the time, was into his thirties and in the twilight of his career.
Zaheer ended up as one of the greatest new-ball bowlers of all time (particularly to left-handers), an expert at the art of reverse-swing (even with the old white ball), a potent bowler in the Test arena, and finally, a World Cup hero.
Nevertheless, shielded behind this facade of glory, was a story of struggle.
Zaheer first pursued his cricketing dream after moving to Mumbai, staying back in a small hospital room his father’s aunt worked in, using it as a \”place to crash\” after practice. Training with veteran coach Sudhir Naik, Zaheer’s raw talent was in his pace, as he trained in the National Cricket Camp nets during practice hours and played tennis ball cricket in his leisure time afterward. Naik helped Zaheer find a job at the textile mill to support his practice, with an INR 5000 (˜US$100) paycheck. According to Naik, he often didn’t get to eat breakfast before practice, which, oddly enough, didn’t seem to affect his pace much.
Zaheer continued to work on his bowling, supporting his passion with a meager salary and buying his first cricket kit on his own. Even his bowling boots had to be arranged from the National Cricket Club’s funds, as he continued to impress with his work ethic and commitment. Under Coach Naik, his skill was given direction and polished over the course of the next 3 years, and Zaheer made his entry into the Ranji fold. Taking giant strides in the domestic circuit, he impressed the selectors enough to be in the national reckoning within the next year: A huge achievement, given that Zaheer’s coach had to convince his father not to thrust him into the engineering field – four years since, instead of a degree certificate and a grade transcript, a blue jersey with the India crest arrived at his doorstep.
Zaheer Khan made his debut in the ICC Knockout Cup in 2000 and immediately hit the headlines when he yorked Steve Waugh, beating him for pace. An Indian express-pacer was a once-in-a-blue-moon discovery, and his ability to bowl fast yorkers at the death, move the ball off the deck and in the air, and his ability to maintain his pace, set him apart from the more metronomic fast bowlers that India was used to. In short, Zaheer was an exciting maverick, who brought hope to the Indian pace arsenal which was ageing around the turn of the century.