India have played 70 overseas Tests since Zaheer Khan's Test debut in 2000, out of which he has missed 24 — many due to injuries. He hasn't completed an away series since January 2010. He has also not lasted the course on India's two previous tours of Australia in 2003-04 and 2007-08 © AFP
India have played 70 overseas Tests since Zaheer Khan’s Test debut in 2000, out of which he has missed 24 — many due to injuries. He hasn’t completed an away series since January 2010. He has also not lasted the course on India’s two previous tours of Australia in 2003-04 and 2007-08 © AFP

 

By Nishad Pai Vaidya

 

The dress rehearsals are over and the stage is set for Boxing Day. In the two practice games at Canberra, the Indians had the opportunity to test all players and give them game time ahead of the eagerly-anticipated Test series. There were a few positives that emerged for them in those matches, but prominent negatives threaten to loom large ahead of the crucial series Down Under.

 

Over the last few days, there has been a cloud around Ishant Sharma’s fitness as the team management kept allaying fears and denying asking cover for the gangling paceman. On the other hand, pace spearhead Zaheer Khan is making a return to international cricket after his disastrous exit on Day One of the first Test at Lord’s earlier this year. He had to prove his fitness in the Ranji Trophy before embarking upon this tour and didn’t bowl too much in the warm-ups in the Australian capital.

 

India’s chances heavily depend on the availability of Zaheer and Ishant. Going by Ishant’s state of affairs, it is difficult to see him last the whole series, unless the whole drama permeated due to precautionary measures taken by the team management. If the recent past is any indicator, Indian fans will have to keep their fingers crossed as far as Zaheer is concerned. The last time Zaheer lasted a full away series was in Bangladesh in early 2010. In fact, he has gone through many overseas tours without completing it.

 

Zaheer made his debut against Bangladesh at Dhaka in November 2000. Since then, India have played 70 overseas Tests out of which Zaheer has played 46. Out of the 24 matches he has missed, a lot of them have been due to injuries. The other misses came when he was dropped during the Greg Chappell era and one or two in the initial phases of his Test career.

 

Here are Zaheer Khan’s relevant numbers since Zaheer Khan’s Test debut:

 

Overseas series

played by India

Overseas series  
completed by Zaheer

Series missed

completely by Zaheer

Series left

incomplete by Zaheer

24*

13

3**

8

 

*Since Zaheer’s debut in November 2000.

 

**Includes the West Indies tour of 2006 where he wasn’t picked.

 

The figure in the column on the extreme right shows is quite a revelation about Zaheer’s career. Of course, it includes Test series where reports say that he was dropped for a game or two not necessarily because of injuries. But even then the number is too large for somebody who is the leader of India’s attack and on whom the team’s hopes lay.

 

When you look at the series he missed completely, one would see that two of them have come in the recent past. He had to withdraw from West Indies earlier this year and in Sri Lanka in 2010, without playing a Test. One must not count the West Indies tour of 2006 as he wasn’t picked and was away in County cricket, trying to prove his form.

 

What is worrying is that he hasn’t completed the last four overseas series. As discussed earlier, Sri Lanka 2010 and West Indies 2011 feature in that list. The others are the England series, which took place earlier this year, and the tour to South Africa in 2010-11. In South Africa, he missed the first Test due to injury, a game in which the Indian bowlers got hammered. When he came back for the remainder of the series, India’s bowling attack looked rejuvenated. It showed how much India relies on him to bowl the opposition out. The same phenomenon was clearly visible in the first Test at Lord’s.

 

As discussed in one of my previous articles, Zaheer hasn’t lasted a whole series in Australia. In 2003-04 he played two out of the four Tests, and in 2007-08 he didn’t play a game after the series opener. In those games, he showed good form and one felt that had he got a longer run, Australia would have had a tough time facing him. On his third tour Down Under, he would be hoping that injuries stay away and allow him to last the course.

 

India, however, would keep its fingers crossed!

 

(Nishad Pai Vaidya, a 21-year-old law student, is a club and college-level cricketer. His teachers always complain, “He knows the stats and facts of cricket more than the subjects we teach him.”)