London: Indian spearhead Zaheer Khan missing from action due to hamstring strain could have cataclysmic bearing on India`s chances not only in the historic first Test but also for the rest of the summer.
England, struggling to come to grips with Zaheer`s befuddling seam and swing on the first day, prospered in his absence and Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen put on 98 runs for the third wicket.
Zaheer clearly didn`t have the perfect conditioning ahead of the England tour after missing out of the entire trip to the Caribbean with a right ankle injury.
He is short of match practice in the longer version of the game, having bowled just 20 overs since the last time he bowled in a Test was in South Africa this January.
He had an opportunity to stretch himself in the game against Somerset, the warm-up to the Test series, but didn`t bowl at all in the second innings.
Even in the first innings of the Lord`s Test, in helpful conditions, Zaheer didn`t seem to stretch himself and bowled well within himself even though he acquitted himself very well in helpful conditions on the first day.
Zaheer, at 32, isn`t getting any younger but his absence at a critical stage of the series, when India`s number one Test ranking is on the line, is likely to further fuel the Club vs Country debate.
Zaheer turned out for Royal Challengers Bangalore in the Indian Premier League (IPL) after leading India`s charge in the Test series against South Africa as well as during India`s successful campaign in the 2011 World Cup.
Zaheer was excellent on the first day of the Lord`s Test, bowling seven overs for just nine runs and taking Alistair Cook`s wicket in the pre-lunch session.
Zaheer bowled four successive maiden overs after lunch and also took England skipper Andrew Strauss out of the contest with a catch in the deep.
With India struggling to break through the third wicket stand, Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni turned to Zaheer again, this time from the other end, and he came close to claiming the wicket of Jonathan Trott whose chance went between Dhoni and Rahul Dravid in the slip cordon.
Zaheer bowled that over maiden and was in the middle of his next over when he went away clutching his right hamstring.
Dhoni and the rest of the Indian team would rue if they made Zaheer overbowl on the first day given how under-prepared the left-arm seamer has been.
England could end India`s 19-month reign at the top if they are able to beat the visitors by 2-0 or 3-1 margin in the four-Test series.
India presently has 125 points on the ICC`s Test rankings with England on third at 117 points, behind South Africa who have 118 in the second spot.
Ironically, this issue has come up when ICC is celebrating the 2000th Test ever in annals and the 100th between England and india -- with vows of making the longer-version of the game survive for another 2000 Tests.
But if players continue to be torn between Club and Country, the future of Test cricket couldn`t be said to be too bright.
Surely, this high voltage series needed the top players in best of physical conditioning to live up to people`s expectations.