They complement each other

Published : Sep 08, 2001 00:00 IST


ONE, a battle-hardened soldier who has seen it all in a meandering career, the other a fiery youngster with a burning desire to buck the odds.

Circumstances brought them together, and the situation got the best out of them. Venkatesh Prasad and Zaheer Khan... the Kandy Test heroes.

True, the positive run-chase by the Indians eventually won the side a series-levelling 'away' Test, but it was the bowling of Prasad and Zaheer that turned the contest on its head.

The 'right-left' combination worked just right for India even as the Lankans were ambushed, Prasad, deceptively dangerous, and Zaheer, the battering ram, complementing each other.

No Javagal Srinath, who left for home with a broken finger after Galle, no Ashish Nehra, nursing a groin strain - Prasad and Zaheer had that much more responsibility thrust on them. They did not let their captain or the side down.

In the process, Prasad had also displayed the strength of mind to come roaring back after Sanath Jayasuriya had dismissed him ruthlessly on an eventful second day in Galle. The Karnataka seamer bowled much better on the third morning and the indications were that he was gradually getting back into his groove.

Zaheer too had kept his spirits high when he was under an injury cloud during the one-day triangular tournament that preceded the Test series. He had persistent pain in his right shin, and had to fly back home after the Coca-Cola ODI competition for further investigation. Thankfully, there was no broken bone and Zaheer was back for the Test series. "I always believed that I would be back," said Zaheer.

For Prasad, the five-wicket haul in the Lankan second innings in Kandy was a just reward following a hard struggle at a stage when quite a few believed he was finished.

A particularly satisfying effort it certainly was since he had struggled on the Sri Lankan pitches in the past. This time around he did manage to conquer the conditions. "It is nice to achieve the feat in Sri Lanka," the genial paceman said.

It is indeed hard to understand why Prasad has often been labelled a one-day bowler. After the Kandy Test, he was just seven short of the 100-wicket mark in Test cricket which includes seven five-wicket hauls.

At the Asgiriya Stadium, he also proved there was quite a bit of fuel still left in the tank. He was bowling in a wonderful rhythm, got the ball to seam both ways and was achieving his trademark bounce too, putting his height to good use. Skipper Ganguly was delighted. "It's nice to see him come back and do so well. He provides the attack with experience and variety."

The last year had been a frustrating one for Prasad. He was the pick of the Indian bowlers in the ICC Knock-out tournament in Kenya, performed a fair job in the ODI competition in Sharjah and then in the one-day home series against Zimbabwe.

Then, the 32-year-old Karnataka seamer was given just one Test against the Aussies at Kolkata, bowled adequately without success, and was promptly dumped from both the Test and the one-day teams.

It goes without saying that the 32-year-of Prasad, given his probing off-stump line, and his ability to gain lateral movement, would have been immensely useful on the seaming wickets of Zimbabwe, but the selectors thought otherwise.

It was a cruel decision, but Prasad, far from sulking in a corner, gave it another crack. Long hours at the nets coupled with hard work at the gym meant Prasad kept himself ready.

And in Bangalore, old friend Javagal Srinath was also around with his words of encouragement. When Prasad finally won the nod for the Test series in Sri Lanka there was none happier than Srinath. In fact, the two landed in Colombo together for the three-Test campaign, but then Srinath, struck by a lifting Dilhara Fernando delivery at Galle, was forced to catch the flight back home.

With Srinath not around for the last two Tests, the onus was on Prasad, and he was not found wanting. There is discipline in Prasad's bowling that has served him well in both forms of the game. He has a mean leg-cutter, can bring the ball in as well besides varying his pace. Importantly, he makes the batsmen play more often than not.

One remembers Dennis Lillee, Prasad's guru at the MRF Pace Foundation, telling us that he would put anything on line on Prasad doing well for India. Those were the early days when the lanky pacemen was not getting the India call.

And despite the fluctuations of form and fortune that are a part of any sportsperson's life, Prasad has not let Lillee down.

Like Prasad, Zaheer has blossomed under Lillee. A cricketer who has kept his date with success despite the stumbles. It must have been a shattering blow to Zaheer when he was made to feel unwanted in Mumbai, a place where he learnt his cricket.

He did not let his chin drop, and pursued his passion in Baroda which welcomed him with open arms. Then came his stint at the MRF Pace Foundation, where Zaheer learnt about the finer aspects of his trade.

Zaheer began head-hunting in the domestic circuit, and soon the word was out - here was someone special. For a start, Zaheer had two things going for him. He was a left-armer, and could fire in the sphere at quite a pace.

Zaheer impressed the Indian team when be bowled at the nets during the conditioning camps and Srinath went to the extent of calling him the quickest bowler in the country. No small compliment.

Soon the tall, well-built man was on the flight to Kenya for the ICC-Knockout Trophy 2000. Zaheer's quest in the world of international cricket had begun.

He bowled with much ferocity in Nairobi, often touching speeds close to 145kmph. And Zaheer rearranged quite a few stumps with the reverse swinging yorker that made him pretty special in Indian cricket.

And during the last one year with the Indian team, Zaheer has learnt quite a bit. He can straighten the odd delivery into the right-hander, apart from angling it away, and it was this variation that put the seeds of doubts in the minds of the Lankan batsmen at Kandy.

He can deliver a well-directed short ball too and it was Zaheer who finally got it right, snaring Jayasuriya with a flier that was close to the Lankan's body, not giving him the width, cramping him and finding the edge."It's my strength. I can hit the deck hard," reveals Zaheer.

It is not such a bad thing to have healthy rivalries among the young pacemen and the arrival of Nehra has only sharpened Zaheer's combative instincts. Being left out of the Harare Test for no obvious reason was a temporary setback, but Zaheer has taken this in his stride.

In fact, with Prasad and Zaheer turning on the heat, and Srinath and Nehra likely to join the two for the South African tour, the Indian pace attack will surely wear a healthy look. A bunch with the right blend of experience and youth.

More stories from this issue

Sign in to unlock all user benefits
  • Get notified on top games and events
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign up / manage to our newsletters with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early bird access to discounts & offers to our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment