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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.
Chennai Super Kingshave been the most consistent and one of the most balanced IPL teams since the first season. A strong core of Indian players has been their biggest strength and the main reason behind them finishing in the top-four every time.
However, there was one slot that they tried hard to fill for the first five years but without much success – that of a quality Indian pace bowler.
Ahead of IPL 2013, CSK’s bowling coach Andy Bichel oversaw a trail of a few uncapped fast bowlers, picked from the length and breadth of the country and picked four from them. Haryana’s 24-year-old pacer, Mohit Sharma, was one of them.
After CSK’s last league match of the season, Mohit has 17 wickets from 13 matches at an economy rate of 6.23. Also, a majority of his wickets have helped his team break the back of the opposition top-order in the Power Plays.
In a chat withIPLT20.com Mohit spoke of his journey in the IPL which will be the culmination of a successful cricketing season for him after being the fifth highest wicket-taker in the 2012-13 Ranji Trophy.
The feeling of belonging
I have been playing Ranji Trophy for the last two years but I’ve played a lot of age group cricket before that. I played three-four years of Under-19 cricket before getting a chance in the Ranji Trophy. I have been watching the IPL since the first season and was a little nervous initially when I got my first chance. But now I’m very well used to it. It’s become a sort of routine now and has got into the muscle memory.
No time to relax
I’ve had a really successful first IPL season but there’s still a long way to go. The most crucial matches will come up now in the Playoffs and it’s important to do even better in this last phase of the tournament. I hope I can continue to do well in the knockout matches as well. The biggest lesson
The biggest thing I’ve learnt from the IPL is the importance of sticking to your basics no matter what level you play at. Instead of getting carried away with experimenting, do what you do best. It’s always your basics that will take you till the very end.
First-class cricket is the scale for judgment
I don’t think Andy Bichel would have even seen me bowling before the CSK trial. It was all due to my first-class performance. If I am standing here today it’s purely because of my first-class performance and all credit should go to Haryana Cricket Association and my state team.
Hard yards pay off
Accuracy has been my strength but I have also developed it along the way. The more competition you face, the more you need to keep improving your game. I have worked on my consistency and also my out-swinger a lot. In Haryana we work a lot on our game and fitness during the off-season and that is all helping in now in my game. Accuracy is one of them.
I have been given the role of bowling in the Power Plays. But the only instruction I was given was to stick to whatever I have been doing so far, not think too much and try to remain as blank as I can. The coach and captain told me that whatever I have done on the cricket field so far as brought me into the IPL and the same will take me forward in my career.
Adding new tricks to the trade
Out-swinger is my stock ball but with Andy BIchel I have been working on the incoming delivery. I have been working on my slower ones as well. I used to bowl them back of length but then Bichel told me how I can add variations to my slower ones as well. I’m also learning from him how to get out of jail as a bowler when the batsman is on the attack.
The cherished scalps
Two IPL wickets are very special for me. One is that of Viru paaji (Virender Sehwag). The fact that I dismissed him in both our matches against Delhi Daredevils makes it all the more special. Another very cherished wicket of mine is that of Yuvi paaji (Yuvraj Singh). These are the two wickets I won’t forget for the rest of my life.