Zaheer keen to embrace 'support role'

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Sitting pretty despite the absence of Duminy, De Kock – Zaheer

In 2015, Zaheer Khan had announced that he would retire from all forms of cricket after the ninth IPL season. Two years on, he’s set to lead Delhi Daredevils again in their quest for their maiden title, in the tenth edition. Zaheer hasn’t played a competitive game for a year, but believes a shift in roles – from being the leader of the bowling group to one who will play the supporting act – will help him ease into the demands of the shortest format.

“It’s very difficult to not play any match and then to turn up here and play the whole season. I look at it as a challenge. I stick to my routines along with discussion I have had with my trainers and physios,” he said. “The process remains the same. I picked up the ball around December, got into it slowly and here I am now, ready to take on another IPL season.

“Every time I get on the field, the excitement comes back. It’s the right dose of cricket for me at this stage of my career. I have supreme fast bowlers who will take the pressure off me. I’m not playing the lead role, but just the support role. I’m playing the role I enjoy the most. This is my way of giving back to the game.”

Among the “supreme fast bowlers” he referred to are Pat Cummins and Kagiso Rabada, two of their latest acquisitions, and Mohammed Shami, who Zaheer confirmed was “fully available.”

Cummins, earlier part of Kolkata Knight Riders, will start the tournament on the back of two intense Tests against India, while Rabada, in his first IPL stint, is coming off a full series with South Africa in New Zealand. “It’s good to have a bowling captain for starters,” Cummins said. “It’s easier to adjust to the T20 format from Tests than the other way round.”

Zaheer was also hopeful that a young batting unit that was empowered to deliver under crunch moments in the past steps up in the absence of two high-profile players in Quinton de Kock and JP Duminy due to injuries.

“We’ve always believed in youngsters and the potential they have. If you look at last season’s squad, you’ve got someone like Karun Nair, who has a triple century at the Test level,” Zaheer said. “Shreyas Iyer has made his mark, he’s part of the Test team. These youngsters are no longer youngsters, they’re seasoned campaigners now. That is the strength of DD this year.

“You’ve got an Indian batting line-up [also having in their ranks Sanju Samson and Rishabh Pant] which is more experienced and know more about of their roles. The squad is settled. We’re sitting pretty despite JP and Quinton’s unavailability. If you look at all the squads, you will find players who are missing out because of international duties and injuries. We’re prepared for the uncertainties.”

Highly regarded in Indian cricket circles as a bowling mentor, Zaheer also explained the need to have fast bowlers playing as much cricket as possible, when asked if an entire IPL season could bring about injuries and fatigue to India’s fast bowlers, Umesh Yadav in particular, after undergoing heavy workloads during the course of India’s 13 home Tests.

“When I was playing, I preferred to play more and more. When you’re in rhythm, you can maintain that,” Zaheer said. “You can maintain workloads at practice. Someone like Umesh, who has played all season, he isn’t going to realise when 20 overs are done. That’s the beauty of bowling fitness. With all the bowlers who’ve been playing Tests and some level of cricket, it will be easier in terms of bowling fitness. The more you bowl, the better you will get. I’ve always endorsed match practice is the best practice.”

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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