By Eric Simons
I don’t want to talk about the One-Day International (ODI) series because, to me, it’s already in the past. You can’t change those results. But as India prepare to take on South Africa in the two-match Test series starting on December 18 in Johannesburg, I am pleased to see the name of Zaheer Khan in the squad.
I think it’s always nice to have somebody who has been there and done that. Zaheer won’t be speaking from a position of ‘this might work’. He will be speaking from a position of ‘this will work’. As one of the few players who has been part of an Indian side that’s beaten South Africa in South Africa, Zaheer brings with him a wealth of experience. I was privileged to be part of the Indian set-up that won in Durban three years ago. Zaheer was all class then. His six wickets (three for 36 and three for 57) went a long way in assuring us of that series-levelling triumph.
There is a lot of talent in the current group of bowlers and Zaheer will, sort of, be the guiding light to all of them. A great mentor, he will be the one motivating the bowling unit and ensuring they stay on an even keel when it comes to tactics.
The bottom of any plan is consistency. In 2010-11, our objective was to bowl a length that hit the top of off stump. And in South Africa, that length is obviously going to be fuller than it is on Indian pitches. The key is to find that length and stick to it. Given the pace and bounce the pitches in this part of the world offer you, one can start with a ‘wider channel’. So you generally start just outside the off stump and then, as the ball gets older and softer, your line becomes straighter. You can go with a four-field and make the batsman come at you. That’s how we worked last time. We were happy to stay in that ‘channel’.
India have a group of five good pacers — Zaheer, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami — and I know each of them is capable of bowling well with the ball. Zaheer has got to be one of the two new-ball bowlers because South Africa have Graeme Smith at the top. So who shares it with him? Well, that’s up to the skipper. It’s also about the combination India want to go in with. Everyone loves to bowl with the new ball. But a lot depends on what the need of the hour is. Do they want someone who takes the ball away from the right-hander? Or is it about someone who can bowl better with the older ball? But I know this for sure: Zaheer has to make first use of the new ball.
— As told to Derek Abraham
(Eric Simons is a former South African cricketer who played 23 One-Day Internationals as an all-rounder. He was head coach of the South African national side and later India’s bowling coach. He was part of the Indian team’s backroom staff when they won the 2011 World Cup. He is now a coach of Delhi Daredevils. The above article first appeared in DNA)
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