On Sunday, after delivering the fifth ball of his 21st over, the 99th of Railways’ innings against Mumbai, Zaheer collected his cap from the umpire and walked slowly off the field. A number of spectators at the Wankhede may have cast their minds back to a year ago, when Zaheer had limped off the field after bowling 13 overs in the first Test at Lord’s. The left-arm seamer took no further part in the series; India lost 0-4.
Zaheer’s trudge back to the Wankhede dressing room, for now, doesn’t seem to have similar implications. Mumbai skipper Ajit Agarkar revealed that it was only a cramp that forced him off the field. “Zak’s okay; he is cramping a bit. He should be okay tomorrow morning. He’s bowled some 20 overs. It suddenly got a little humid, probably dehydrated a little bit,” he said.
Agarkar played down concerns that the cramp could return to trouble him during the Tests. “Twenty overs is a fair workout. He is in good shape,” he said.
The Yuvraj question
The other big question that will occupy the selectors’ minds is Yuvraj’s readiness for the physical demands of five-day cricket. A few days ago, skipper MS Dhoni had raised this concern. “In a Test match the opposition might bat for two days,” he said. “If he (Yuvraj) stays in the field that long, it shouldn’t reflect on his batting.”
The selectors have kept an eye on Yuvraj during the Duleep Trophy match between North Zone and Central Zone in which the southpaw scored a double hundred and during the three-day tour game between India A and England XI, in which Yuvraj scored 59 and took five wickets. This is likely to win him a spot in the Test squad, according to a member of the selection panel.
“He (Yuvraj) looked to be in fine fettle which is a very good news for Indian cricket. Also, his spin bowling provides an extra option,” the selector said.
Yuvraj, having undergone successful treatment for a rare germ cell cancer, returned to the limited-overs squad during the World Twenty20 championship. The last time he played a Test match was against West Indies in November 2011.
His relative experience in Test cricket — as against his competitors for the number six slot — could sway the selectors, after the retirements of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman. Yuvraj is likely to replace S Badrinath, who came in for the retired Laxman during the home series against New Zealand. Suresh Raina is likely to retain his place, while Ajinkya Rahane will be the reserve opener.
With Piyush Chawla, who sat out the Duleep Trophy and the first round of the Ranji Trophy, still to recover from a finger injury, the third spinner’s slot will be contested by Harbhajan Singh, Amit Mishra and Rahul Sharma. R Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha will lead the spin attack, while Zaheer, Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma are likely to form the pace combination.