Zaheer Khan’s recent sub-par performances have attracted much scrutiny and no little censure, but Mahendra Singh Dhoni made a strong case for his premier strike bowler, calling him the “Sachin of the bowling department”.
“It is easier to go after a bowler,” said Dhoni after a training session at the P Sara Oval on Saturday. “If you see his performances, we should give him the same respect we give Sachin because he is the Sachin for us when it comes to the bowling department. He has led the attack in the last few years, he has been our best bowler whatever the format may be. He may not have got the wickets in the last few games but we are in a position where we have the luxury of giving him a few games.”
Asked if his faith in Zaheer was unshakeable, Dhoni replied, “Whether to say yes to that is difficult for me because we only have a few games on hand but I am hoping that the experienced cricketer he is, he gets back and really works for us.”
Dhoni did concede that the lack of form of Zaheer, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, all experienced pros, did impact him as captain. “It does put a bit of pressure,” said Dhoni. “In this tournament, the system is such that we don’t carry points forward to the next stage. But in the knockout stage, if something like this happens and you want to play a fifth bowler, it becomes tricky whom to drop. These players we are talking about are match-winners, who can on their day take the game away. So you would like give them a long rope so that in the knockout stages they really do well and win a few games for us.”
India will make changes to its playing XI for Sunday’s game against England. “We are looking at making a few changes to the playing XI so that most of the 15 players will have had at least one game before the next stage,” confirmed Dhoni. “That will help us We would like to give some game-time for the batsmen as well as the bowlers so that when we are looking at playing the fifth bowler, we will know who suits the conditions and who needs to get out.
“As for the fifth bowler, it may happen in this game but keeping what happened in the warm-up game against Pakistan in mind, you must see how much of an impact the fifth specialist bowler has. It is a difficult decision to make but we will see how it goes in the coming games and then decide whether we need to play with five bowlers or we can manage with four.”
Dhoni obliquely hinted that the team had been under a bit of pressure going into the Afghanistan game. “When you play a lower-ranked side, you want to be at your best,” said Dhoni. “People expect you to win but if something bad happens – which has happened in the past – then you are under tremendous pressure. It’s good that the Afghanistan game is out of the way and all the teams we will play from now on will be strong sides that are doing really well.
“When you are playing in a big tournament like the World Cup or the Champions Trophy, you will play the better teams once you get into the knockout or Super Eight stages. This is nothing unusual for us, we need to play good cricket and play to our strengths. There are quite a few areas we need to improve in, and we need to focus on that.”