Zaheer`s opening spells in WC finals, a study in contrast

Mumbai: Eight years ago he faltered at the biggest stage in cricket, the World Cup summit clash against Australia in Johannesburg, but today Indian pace spearhead Zaheer Khan truly exorcised that disastrous spell of bowling with a splendid opening burst against Sri Lanka.

The contrast could not have been starker; the opening over from Indian pace spearhead Zaheer Khan in the 2003 title contest against Australia and today`s first-ever All-Asian World Cup summit clash at the Wankhede Stadium here.

Eight years ago in the Bull Ring of the Wanderers` Stadium in South Africa, the nervous Zaheer`s first over cost India 15 runs and Australia never looked back from that flying start provided by the left arm paceman.

The first over four years ago included a spate of no-balls and wides against the great Australian pair of Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden and India`s rivals rode on that disastrous over and captain Ricky Ponting`s pulverising 121-ball knock of 140 to make an imposing 359 for 2. Zaheer ended up with none for 67 in only seven overs.

India went on to lose that contest, only their second entry into the tournament`s grand finale till then, by 125 runs.

This was in sharp contrast to today`s splendid beginning by the left-arm pace spearhead, who went into the match with 19 wickets under his belt ? two less than topper and Pakistan skipper Shahid Afridi in the tournament - against Sri Lanka.

He not only bowled three maiden overs, but also picked up the wicket of left-handed Lanka opener Upul Tharanga before conceding his first run of the match. His first spell read a superb 5-3-6-1 and he conceded his first run off the 20th ball he delivered.

Tharanga and Tillakaratne Dilshan have forged a very successful opening partnership for Lanka in this tournament, including two double century stands ? 282 against Zimbabwe in the league stage on March 10 at Pallakalle and 231 unfinished against England in the quarter finals at Colombo on March 26.

Zaheer was plagued by injuries and even lost his place in the Indian squad after the 2003 final before storming his way back into it after a stint with Worcestershire in the English county circuit.

Since then the 32-year-old bowler, who has grabbed an identical 271 wickets in both Tests and ODIs, has been absolutely superb with the ball and the leader of the fast bowling pack.