Cow Corner

Zaheer blow could leave India hamstrung

Cow Corner

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When five esteemed cricket experts were asked who was India's key player ahead of the series with England, two said Sachin Tendulkar, while three believed it was fast bowler Zaheer Khan.

It may seem surprising, indeed staggering, that the best batsman since the great Sir Donald Bradman is not considered the indispenable part of the Indian machine by the overwhelming majority.

But that would be to neglect the influence held by India's one truly world class paceman, and the man who has proved himself a consummate exponent of swing bowling in English conditions.

On a day of drab batting, dank conditions and defensive bowling the tourists, and Zaheer in particular, encounted two almighty highs, and one almighty low.

From his opening 11 overs of the match, the paceman boasted formidable figures of two for nine while sending first Alastair Cook, then England captain Andrew Strauss, back to the pavilion for modest scores.

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But in the 42nd over of the match, Zaheer went down clutching his hamstring after being struck with pain on his follow through stride. It could have been severe cramp, it could have been a strain, but either way it represented a monumental scare.

It was a hugely dramatic moment in the day, and one which caused everyone at the ground to ponder the potential ramifications the injury could have for the series.

Arguably, the experience and guile of the paceman makes him the most influential player on either side in this series.

It is a mark of how vital Zaheer was to Duncan Fletcher's plans as India coach to do battle with England on their own turf that he was playing at all: it did not take the keenest of eyes to spot that the seamer was carrying a fair bit of timber, and he was clearly not fully fit.

Equally, it is a mark of the left-armer's prowess in English conditions that he was still able to remove both openers despite having not had a suitable or appropriate build up to the series.

It was patently clear that the onus would always be on Zaheer to produce the goods for India in the fast bowling stakes, in this series even more than in most others.

Okay, so Zaheer may not be the best bowler in the series. He may not even be the best fast bowler in the series. But the simple facts are as follows: if you take Jimmy Anderson out of the England attack, Steven Finn or Timmy Bresnan step in (no big deal); if you take Sachin Tendulkar out of the India top order, it remains mighty strong; but you take the left-arm paceman out of the India bowling attack, and it suddenly looks very feeble and impotent.

Fletcher will be sweating profusely as he waits on the fitness updates concerning Zaheer and the former England coach will be desperate not to see his best laid plans unravelled by one dodgy hamstring and a replacement in Ishant Sharma whose hair is so long and unruly he can barely see the batsman in his delivery stride.

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To mark the 2,000th Test match, each day Cowers will pose a question to take you back in time - today's is: 'Which Test match do you recall as being the most dramatic of all time?' Post your answers and comments below...

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USER COMMENT OF THE DAY: "15 runs from 26 balls. Trott thinks this is a 20/20 doesn't he??" (Lee was rather staggered at the early scoring rate of Trott.)

TWEET OF THE DAY: "Just bumped into Duncan Fletcher. I flew across the Long Room. He can still belly bounce can Fletch." (Sir Andrew Strauss - the parody - regales everyone about the moment his paths crossed with Duncan Fletcher's at Lord's.)

STATS OF THE DAY: This is not only the 2,000th Test match, but the 100th between these two sides. It's fitting, therefore, that this historic encounter is being staged at the 'home of cricket'.

TALKING POINT OF THE DAY: When will the first series-changing decision be neglected by a lack of technology? The India Cricket Board's petty and stubborn decision to refuse DRS technology to be employed in this series leaves everyone awaiting the inevitable moment where one side (for the sake of irony, it could be India) lament the lack of sensible intervention when the on-field white coats cannot find the right call.

What do you make of the lack of the DRS technology in this series? Post your views below...

SHOT OF THE DAY: It's fair to say that Kevin Pietersen and Harbhajan Singh are not on amicable terms, or indeed any terms whatsoever. Here, the spinner decides that MS Dhoni needs his gloves warming after fielding off his own bowling. KP has to take sharp evasive action before clambering to his feet to tell Harbhy what he thinks of him (below).

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