India’s fast bowling legend Zaheer Khan was a crucial cog in India’s 2011 World Cup triumph at Wankhede. Zaheer was the joint highest wicket-taker in the tournament scalping 21 wickets in 9 matches. Zaheer had a torrid time with the ball during the 2003 finals, he was rather excellent the second time around and made sure the Indian team fulfilled its dream at Wankhede. The star bowler implied that he bowled well in the 2011 finals after learning from his mistakes he made during the 2003 World Cup final against Australia where the Ricky Ponting lead team completely dominated the game and snatched away India’s dream of being World Champions for the second time.
In an interview, with Sportstar the fast bowler spoke on his process and how he stopped the pressure of finals affect his decision making and keep his emotions under control.
“Being in control of the emotions because the final can be overwhelming. Finals can get those emotions out: about what can happen if we win the finals. And what can happen if we lose? They are very strong emotions,” Zaheer said.
“During the 2003 World Cup, I was just a young kid coming at the international level, reaching the finals, playing against an opposition which was very strong and experienced. Australia had a lot of match-winners in that playing eleven. 2003 was thinking this was going to happen if we win the World Cup. It will be huge, you know. It’s not happened since ’83. The country is going to go crazy and everyone is expecting us to win. So all those kinds of things also put you under pressure,” Zaheer said.
“When you do something wrong or if you don’t get the rhythm going then comes the pressure of what is going to happen if we lose. So I think it’s a pendulum swing between that and the only way to stop it is by staying in the present. You’ve to be able to block yourself out from these thoughts. If you are staying in the present and just observing what the game is, and just reacting to that, these things get simpler. I think that was the experience and learning of 2003 that I applied to 2011,” he added
Zaheer stressed his importance of being India’s pace spearheading the Indian bowling attack in the finals as he was the seniormost bowler in the team. He also recalled that S Sreesanth was playing in his first match of the tournament which was the finals. Sreesanth walked into the team coming on as a replacement for the Ashish Nehra who injured himself in the semi-finals. Zak remembered how both the teams wanted to bat first and how difficult it was to bowl in Mumbai due to the heat and Humidity in the first half of the game.
“In finals, I always knew that it’s important to set the tone right. To start the finals well. For me, bowling those three overs and taking that wicket without really giving any run was amazing,” he said.
“I was just focusing on that, and, building it from there and making sure that others also were continuing with that. Remember someone like Munaf (Patel) was there at the other end to support me and Sreesanth was there who was struggling with the heat. I had to keep motivating him through that process because he had not been part of the World Cup playing XI up until that point. It was an injury (to Ashish Nehra) which made a place for him in the team. And that was not easy on him, especially without having played a single game in a tournament with that kind of pressure. So, we were trying to be more understanding of that fact and motivating him.” Zak reacalled.
The left-arm pacer recalled Sri Lanka’s progress in the first innings when Mahela Jayawardene adding 62 runs with Kumar Sangakkara stuck up a partnership of 62 runs while the Mahela kept on going and stitched up another 57 runs partnership with Thilan Samaraweera. Khan explained that Sri Lanka was cruising at that stage when India’s cancer-fighting warrior came to the rescue in the finals. Calling Yuvraj as one of India’s biggest assets throughout the World Cup, Zak heaps praise on the all-rounder.
“Yuvi’s (Yuvraj Singh) middle overs spell was also very crucial. If I’m not mistaken he got two wickets in the middle overs. Yuvraj was superb right through the World Cup. He was almost able to bowl his quota of overs throughout the tournament. Yuvi gave us that balance of the fifth bowler we used to always talk about and also provided an overall balance to the playing 11,” he explained.
Zaheer Khan was last seen playing in a road safety series for the Indian legends team played alongside Yuvraj Singh under the leadership of Sachin Tendulkar. The team was filled with heroes of Indian cricket like Virender Sehwag, Mohammed Kaif, Ifan Pathan, etc. The series got postponed to the pandemic outbreak of the Corona Virus across the globe.