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Zaheer Khan: climbing to loftier heights

Zaheer Khan of Baroda is touted as one of India's pace prospects for the forthcoming international season. The Ahmednagar born lad, who will complete 22 in October, has been busy playing league cricket in Madras for Globe Trotters which represents the MRF. Zaheer has been with the MRF Pace Foundation for the last three years and it has moulded him into a fighting fit product ready to pass through the turnstiles into international cricket.

Unlike so many other precocious kids who take to the game almost as toddlers, Zaheer was a relatively late convert to the game. His academic progress took precedence and while he'd played some tennis ball cricket over the years, it wasn't until he completed his 12th standard that he took to playing the game in Bombay with a cricket ball. That was in April 1996 and Zaheer has made giant strides in the ensuing four years.

He has already flirted with national selection, being named in the probables for the Asia Cup in Dhaka earlier this year, and his harvest of 35 wickets at 29.25 in the Ranji Trophy last season, placed him third after Ashish Zaidi and Sadagopan Mahesh among fast medium bowlers. It wasn't all a bed of roses though for he struggled initially to infiltrate into the strong Mumbai new ball line up. After getting only sporadic opportunities in the Ranji Trophy, he sensibly decided to shift allegiance to Baroda in the 1999-2000 season and the move struck pay dirt.

Along with Thiru Kumaran, Zaheer was chosen to train at the Australian Cricket Academy for a short stint early last season and the exposure has helped to toughen him up both physically and mentally. "We represented the ACA and toured New Zealand, playing a few matches with the New Zealand Cricket Academy. The basic idea was to adapt to adverse conditions and perform under difficult situations. The wicket was helpful for seamers and the ball was moving throughout the day. But it was very windy and chilly", said Zaheer recounting that experience. One of the original 24 to be selected in the first batch of the National Cricket Academy inaugurated on 1 May, he spent the first three weeks in Bangalore before being loaned to the MRF Pace Foundation.

Zaheer has the ability to generate a good burst of pace to unsettle his adversaries and when it was put to him that India had for the most part produced medium pacers rather than the genuine quick, he replied with disarming confidence that "in any conditions you need to have speed, only then you can succeed. I believe I can bowl quick." He rated the quickest wickets in India to be at Mohali ("the ball moves all day and seams a bit") and the Chinnaswamy stadium in Bangalore, adding with a glint that "the IPCL ground at Baroda where I get to bowl a lot is also good."

No left armer has opened the bowling for India (apart from Ashish Nehra who got just a solitary game) since the days of Karsan Ghavri some twenty years ago and Zaheer agrees that it should be an advantage. "Its a natural thing. Most right handed batsman are tentative against left arm bowlers." Pleasantly but firmly Zaheer asserts "I'm prepared for my battle ahead. I just know I'm going to give more than 100%" and at the end of the encounter you are more than convinced that he has taken the tide that is leading him on to greater challenges in the foreseeable future.

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Zaheer Khan

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