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Shirin Sadikot in Benagaluru 19 May 2013 - 04:18am IST

Zaheer determined to reclaim India spot

India’s bowling stalwart sets post-IPL goal of returning ’fitter and stronger’ to Team India

Having accumulated as many as 11 pace bowlers ahead of IPL 2013, Royal Challenger Bangalore had made all plans to leave their bowling coach, Venkatesh Prasad, overworked. Thankfully for Prasad, he had someone of the ilk of Zaheer Khan by his side, as the team’s most experienced fast bowler.

The fact that Zaheer was nursing his injured calf for best part of the tournament, gave him more time to spend with the young pacers off the field. Now, with the tournament having entered its business end, India’s best left-arm seamer is back on the field, picking wickets like he normally does.

In only his second game of the tournament, Zaheer picked up four wickets in two overs against CSK to keep RCB’s Playoffs chances alive. After the match, he spoke to IPLT20.com about his fitness progress and of his determination to getting back into India colours.

Zaheer Khan also took time out to talk about his young pace peers at the RCB, including RP Singh and Jaydev Unadakt.

You came on the field for RCB at a very crucial stage of the tournament. How was it playing after such long injury layoff?

I was itching to get back on the field but I always take my time to come back whenever I am injured. This time too, I could have played a couple of matches earlier but it’s always good to be a game late than coming back too early. That was the thinking between the trainer, physio and me.

How strong are you feeling now?

I’m definitely feeling much better but I know I’ve still got a long way to go. Post-IPL I have to put in some serious work into my fitness and form to reclaim my place in the Indian team. That’s what’s on my mind right now – I want to use that period after the IPL to get stronger, fitter and improve in all the areas.

Although you haven’t played much this season, has the huge army of young pacers in that RCB dressing room kept you busy? Have you been more in the mentoring mindset this season?

I’ve been in that mindset for a long time now and I try to put in extra effort in that regards. Yes, this season I’ve had a bit more time on my hand for that role. While I tried to regain my own fitness and did the training, I tried to help the young pacers in whatever capacity I could.

Wasim Akram spoke highly of Jaydev Unadkat. And he’s shown a lot of improvement this IPL season. How do you rate him?

It’s really good to see young Unadkat do so well. He’s a promising young talent and with time he’s definitely going to get better. He had a taste of the highest level very early in his career (Unadkat made his Test debut in 2010 as a 19-year-old) and now he’s hungry to get back there, which is good. With time and the effort he is putting in, I’m sure good things are ahead of him.

There has been a remarkable rise in his performance this IPL as compared to the previous years. Is it because he has been managed different at the RCB stable?

He has definitely improved no doubt about that. But experience also matters. When he played for KKR he was too young and was still learning things. Here he’s had a good first-class season under his belt and it is evident in his bowling. It’s not only about which team uses a player better but also about how the individual is evolving.

You’ve bowled a lot with RP Singh at the international level and now he is with you at RCB. How far do you he is away from an India comeback?

He’s done well for us this season and picked up wickets at crucial times, which is very important in this format. I think he’s looking good. As a fast bowler it’s very important to look after your fitness and learning new things and he’s been doing that. I think playing more matches is going to help him a lot.

How do you think Virat has grown with the captaincy role given to him this season?

He’s leading from the front. It shows in his batting that he wants to be responsible for the team’s success. I think captaincy is helping him mature fairly quickly. I believe this captaincy stint at IPL will help him improve his game as well.

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