Zaheer - master of reverse swing, bowlers' captaintext_fields
Mumbai: Very few Indian pacers were able to master the art of reverse wing and Zaheer Khan was prominently among them. He was perhaps the best left-arm seamer ever that the country has produced.
The 37-year-old ended his 14-year long international career on Thursday due to a series of injuries, the latest being a shoulder complaint. He made his India debut in 2000 and played his last game for the country in 2014 at Wellington against New Zealand.
Zaheer left the stage after playing in 92 Tests and 200 One-Day Internationals (ODIs), picking up 282 and 311 wickets, respectively. He will, however, call time on his domestic career after the conclusion on the 2016 Indian Premier league (IPL 9).
The precision and pace at which he bowled reminded one of the likes of legendary Pakistan paceman Wasim Akram who was instrumental in winning his side the 1992 World Cup.
Though he could not achieve as much as Akram, Zaheer also played a pivotal role in India's success in the 2011 World Cup, terming it as the best moment of his playing career.
He was the joint highest wicket-taker in the tournament along with Pakistan's Shahid Afridi, claiming 21 wickets at 18.76. He also devised the "knuckle ball" which he used quite successfully to bamboozle batsmen in the tournament.
When he first arrived at the international circuit in 2000, under the captaincy of then skipper Sourav Ganguly, Zaheer used his raw pace to get his wickets and emerged as the team's trump card.
His aggressive run-up to the crease and a big leap just before releasing the ball was a sight to behold for the country's fans.
Born in Shrirampur, Maharashtra, Zaheer even possessed in his arsenal toe-crushing Yorkers which would dart into the batsmen, taking them by surprise. In 2003, with Javagal Srinath and Ashish Nehra, Zaheer formed the backbone of the Indian pace-attack, leading the team to the World Cup final.
A few years later, Zaheer had become a veteran and cut down on pace because of injuries. But by then he had mastered the art of hitting the right length and line. He had also learnt how to swing the ball back into the batsman, a delivery which became a nightmare for willowers all around the world, particularly for the left-handers.
The left-armer then charmed cricket lovers with his clever slower deliveries and swing but after the high of the 2011 World Cup, he lost his shine to resemble an old ball, that got considerable punishment from batsmen.
But he utilised his experience in guiding the juniors pacers of the team, instilling confidence and giving insight into the finer points of pace bowling. India's limited overs skipper M.S. Dhoni even acknowledged his contribution, publicly calling him the "captain" of the bowlers.
Zaheer could have quit after the World Cup to end his career on a winning note but carried on till he was plagued with multiple injuries.
His last-ditch effort to get back into the side ended with him cramping away from the field in India's 0-4 loss last year against England, a sorry sight for his fans.
Playing in the money-spinning Indian Premier League (IPL) has been a whirlwind ride for him.
He started in 2008 with the Royal Challengers Bangalore franchise, moving to Mumbai Indians for the next two seasons.
He returned to Bangalore in 2011 only to come back to Mumbai for the 2014-15 season. He will call time on his domestic career after the 2016 IPL, he said.