India pacer Zaheer Khan gearing up for South Africa tour

Mumbai: Veteran India pacer Zaheer Khan, who has made a comeback to the Test side after nearly a year, on Tuesday said he was gearing up for the challenge against South Africa next month. "I have ironed out things I felt were pulling me back. I am ready to take on the challenge. It is great to accept challenge and to live up to it," Zaheer told reporters here.

The 35-year-old has been selected in the 17-member Test squad after taking 13 wickets in three Ranji Trophy matches at an average of 19.84 this season. His last Test was against England in Kolkata in December 2012. The senior pro said that incidentally his last comeback was also in South Africa.

"I have had some good memories of South Africa. My last comeback was there, so I am looking forward to it," he said.

Zaheer will be leading the Mumbai team in its Ranji Trophy match against Vidarbha, which commences on November 28 and he said it would be good to get some match practice before the South Africa tour. "Looking forward to join the team (Indian). I will be playing this Ranji game (against Vidarbha). It is going to be good to get some overs under the belt," he said.

The left-arm seamer, who had been battling fitness issues, said he expected to make a comeback after working hard on the physical aspect. "I was expecting that. Last year when I sat down and was thinking about exactly how to go about, firstly if I want to make my comeback or no. That was the biggest question for me. When the answer was yes, I then chalked out a strategy. What exactly was needed and I did everything possible to make sure that I am there. Obviously, physical aspect was a big thing and I had to tackle that.

"In consultation with lot of trainers and physios I chalked out a plan and so far it worked," he said. "Mentally there was no problem, physically there was a little (problem). It was important that I keep believing in myself, my abilities and just keep on putting the work. That`s what I have always been doing so far in my career. This time it was no different," he said.

Zaheer said he progressed slowly and the spell against West Indies `A` in Hubli last month helped his confidence. "It has been a slow progress right from Shimoga. When I went to Shimoga I knew that I needed some overs under my belt and to progress gradually. I didn`t want anything to happen suddenly and I was kind of progressing slowly but surely.

"As I bowled a few overs in that game, I have always believed that match practice is always the best practice, so that was on my mind and slowly things started picking up. The spell which I bowled in Hubli towards the end gave me lot of confidence and from there I just picked it up," he said.
He added that the spells in the Ranji games helped him to get into that zone.

"It was more to do with getting in that zone as far as matches are concerned. Those spells I was looking at it more from trying out different things. Once I had overs under my belt, I was comfortable being on the field, I was feeling that the recovery in between the spells was spot on. "I was able to recover in between the spells and comeback the next day. So those were the things I was looking at. As far as Test matches are concerned, you have to not only put in effort on the first day, but the important thing is make sure that you are from ball one," he said.

Zaheer had a training stint at Bloemfontein, South Africa with fitness expert Adrian le Roux in September and he said it was a plan to get acclimatised to those conditions. "That was the plan. Obviously, Adrian is someone with whom I have worked with before when he was with the Indian team. We have that rapport. I knew what kind of credibility he has. During the IPL, we had a plan that I would do my strength and conditioning base first in France and then join him for the cricketing skills there in Bloemfontein. Basically, I just stuck to the plan," he said.

Zaheer also said that he planned to start something in the country on the lines of what he did abroad.

"I have plans of start something here that I did abroad because lots of people get benefited. I had the privilege to go abroad and I could afford to do those things but I feel in India you need a setup like that in terms of physiotherapy and fitness. So hopefully instead of giving you a lowdown I will give you the real thing here," he said.

On leading the bowling outfit against the Proteas and helping the youngsters, Zaheer said, "That has come naturally to me. If I can help someone, I don`t hesitate to go up to him and say what I feel. Being a bowler in sub-continent is never an easy task. You have to keep encouraging them, keep giving them confidence. And it is about just backing yourself and believing that. The thought process is very important I feel, especially when you are playing in sub-continent."

He was effusive in his praise for pacer Mohammed Shami and said it was a dream spell and a dream debut for him.

"The (bowling attack) is very promising. Shami produced a brilliant spell against the West Indies. It was like a dream spell and a dream debut for anyone. Considering sub-continent, it is hard to get wickets and he not only bowled well with the new ball but also with the old ball," said Zaheer.