Having read some of the commentary about the Lord’s Test – in newspapers, on websites and on twitter feeds – I’m now convinced that Zaheer Khan is a lazy beer-swilling slob who sits on the couch all day, making an effort only when he needs to yell at the missus to bring him another packet of crisps while he’s watching the darts. Else, he must be a filet mignon gone wrong, given the frequent ‘undercooked’ references.
Zaheer certainly didn’t arrive at Lord’s as svelte as he had been back in 2007, when his bowling was the key factor in India’s series win. He did seem to be carrying some excess weight, but to equate that with laziness is … well, plain lazy. He was supposed to have played the three Tests in the Caribbean but had to pull out because of an injury to his right ankle. When a key weight-bearing joint is affected, your preparation suffers. You can’t jog or carry heavy weights. Nor can you even run in off a few steps to bowl some balls.
Playing him at Lord’s on the back of one warm-up game was always a risk. But this is not some slob on the couch we’re talking about. This is someone who has been central to India’s climb up the Test rankings. An XI without him is similar to a New Zealand side in the 1980s without Richard Hadlee. He’s that important. Yes, his preparation wasn’t ideal, but to question his attitude or commitment is to overlook key facts like the injury.
Tuesday’s papers also had me wondering if The Invincibles were back in town. On the back of one Test, in a series of four, England are apparently the best team in the world. It reminded me of a December evening in Centurion last year, when an overly smug Graeme Smith hinted that seam-friendly conditions in Durban would be more than enough for South Africa to seal the series deal.
In the week before the Boxing Day Test, you’d have been forgiven for thinking that Smith was Douglas Jardine, Jacques Kallis was Sir Garry Sobers and AB de Villiers was a right-handed version of Graeme Pollock. South Africa were the best team in the world, on the verge of confirming as much.
It took India less than 11 sessions to blow them out of the water, despite having lost the toss. Zaheer and Harbhajan Singh took six wickets apiece and Sreesanth took four. No South Africa batsman crossed 40 over the two innings.
England may yet win this series 4-0. They may yet dominate the Test arena for a decade. But till that happens, a sense of perspective might be useful. Not to mention a little respect.
Dileep Premachandran is an Indian journalist who’s writing a regular blog for The Cricketer throughout the Test series. Follow him on Twitter at @SpiceBoxofEarth