A straightforward text message from a public relations agency said it all: “International cricketer Zaheer Khan has announced his retirement today dated Oct. 15, 2015 and he would like to address the media at 2.30 p. m. today over a one to one interaction at ITC, Parel. We would be obliged if you could come down to interview him today. Kindly confirm the same.”
India’s best new ball operator and seamer in the post-Kapil Dev time, and the leading left arm seamer of his time in international cricket, Zaheer Khan could have asked the Mumbai Cricket Association, Baroda Cricket Association or BCCI to make the announcement at a formal function. But he preferred his own way. He said he spoke to almost everybody he played with in the Indian team and of course his parents before he said, “enough is enough, I have enjoyed playing the game.’’
Excerpts from an interview:
Question: So when did you decide to quit? You played your last Test against New Zealand at Basin Reserve in February 2014. Were you keen to get to the 100-Test mark?
Answer: For me clarity with my fitness was important. You have to accept certain things as they come. I am very happy with my journey as an international cricketer. I spoke to my mother and father, before taking the decision. I spoke to coach Sudhir Naik sir. It was a decision which was arrived at with a lot of thought and a clear mind. Obviously, it’s the longer format of the game that I have always enjoyed.
So I wanted to be sure and give myself enough time to see where I was. As I was training I realised that the time has come to say bye to the game.
When did it dawn upon you that you have played enough?
The decision was taken about a week around my birthday (October 7) and post-Eid when I was spending time with my family. That was the time the realisation came. I was in Pune then. I came to Mumbai where my mother, father and brother were also present. I shared my thoughts with them and mother’s reaction was very simple. “Theek hai, it’s been a good journey; bahuth accha safar tha.’’ That’s how she summed it up.
I spoke to Naik sir and T. A. Sekhar. I had a good word with all my close friends; Ashish Nehra, Ajit Agarkar. They were happy for me.That’s the best part. I had a long chat with Sachin (Tendulkar). Before I finally decided, I needed Sachin’s opinion also. Everyone was talking about the journey; how good it has been. We were just going back in time and reminiscing the good times we had.
Indian cricket for long time was a story of Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Venkatsai Laxman, Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan....it must have been terrific playing with this group? And M. S. Dhoni and there was for a while Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad.
It’s been amazing. Different people have played different roles. You missed Virender Sehwag. If you look at the one-day format, winning the World Cup in India in 2011 was something really special. There are so many names. It’s all about the team getting together and the same guys playing for a long time together. The team had a settled look. That’s why we could get the results that we wanted. When you look at any good team achieving big success at international level, you will see a bunch of guys playing together for a long time. So that’s the case with the Indian team that I played with. And I have thoroughly enjoyed the journey in the last 15 years.
In all 92 Test matches, 311 wickets... were you keen to get there, the 100-Test mark? Almost everyone you have played with crossed that figure.
For me it was always about enjoying the game on the field. I have always been saying that cricket gives me that high that nothing else can. So till the time I was feeling that, and my body was supporting that, I was always up for it. I would say that even till the last week, I was thinking that I can come back. I was preparing for the season as well. I had given my availability (to the MCA), knowing well that I will be able to cope with the work load I will be put under. But I got the feeling that this is the right time to go away from the game at international level.
Can you run through the injuries you have had so far?
I have had plantar fasciitis, which is leg related. I also underwent ankle and shoulder operations. These are the two operations that I have had in the last 15 years of my international career and the 20 years I have played in all. There have been niggles and stuff here and there; any fast bowler would have it.
You missed a lot of Test matches because of these injuries; otherwise you would have played 100 plus Test matches?
I have enjoyed every part of my journey; it has been a learning curve right through. That’s the way I have looked at my career. You prepared the best way possible and played the game and also controlled what could be controlled. That’s why the Zak is Back thing has stuck to my career. I am just happy.
How much has fast bowling changed since the time you came in (2000) and now? You had issues with injury, Ashish Nehra had problems and so did Irfan Pathan. There were so many left arm seamers; suddenly there is none now?
Here I would say that the support staff (physical trainer, physio) is very critical. The fast bowlers spend a lot of time with physios and they play a big role in terms of keeping you on the field and make sure that you go strong right through the season. They also help in planning the work load. You can play with some niggles, there are others you cannot risk. So the decisions are taken by trainers and physios. They deserve a big thank you from my side. They have played a big role in keeping me on the field.
Srinath said recently that the biggest challenge for a fast bowler today is adjusting to and playing all three formats of the game: Test, ODI and Twenty20…
Personally I have enjoyed playing all formats. I felt better bowling more and more. If one looks at my career, the more I played I would get better in terms of getting the bowling rhythm. Your bowling muscles need to be going and when you get injured, and that happens to be the toughest challenge, especially to get your bowling muscles going.
So if you stay away from the game for a long time, coming back to the highest level and perform there, you take that much longer. That for me is the key in terms of playing all formats; yes there is the challenge in terms of work load which can be managed by keeping the net bowling to minimal level when the rhythm is good. I hardly used to bowl in the nets and just saved it for the matches.
Day one of the 2011 series at Lord’s; you went out of the series after an analysis of 13.3-8-18-2?
That was beyond my control. You can do all the right things, but no one can assure you that you are not going to get injured. Injuries are common in sports. Take any sport in the world; sportspersons have had different phases in their career. You cannot escape from injuries, even if you do everything possible to stay away from it.
You and Parthiv Patel saved the Trent Bridge Test of the 2002 series. India had lost the Lord’s Test and then won the Leeds Test. Anil Kumble said recently that the 2002 series was one big turnaround series for India?
That series was important for me. It was pretty much my early days in international cricket. That series was a big learning curve for me in terms of bowling in English conditions. As you play in different countries and in different conditions, it adds to your experience.
Just one 10-wicket haul against Bangladesh; You would have liked more such efforts? Does it hurt you somewhere?
Not really. Numbers don’t hurt me. I have always believed in creating an impact on the game. And I feel for any bowler, if in a spell he takes three or four wickets that’s a big impact on the game; be it Test, ODI or Twenty20. Personally I always used to look for such breakthrough spells.
2011 has to be a big milestone for you, winning the World Cup at Wankhede Stadium?
It was a very special moment. Playing the World Cup final in front of your home crowd was something special. Moreover, I had the 2003 demons also to kill; it did not go my way in the final at Johannesburg. So here it was, my second chance to win the World Cup. So bowling those early overs was special.
What will be your advice to Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron and others who are around the scene?
I want them to enjoy the game. You need a different mindset to bowl in the sub-continent conditions; to bowl on the dead placid wickets. It comes from enjoying the game and there is no substitute for hard work.