There are moments in life, when it becomes rally hard to accept the truth. I, currently, am going through such a phase. It’s been close to three months now since you announced your retirement, but I still find the news hard to digest; today more than ever. It is not that our team’s bowling is at its worst ever and we need your services to bolster that department. No. I need you back because I miss you. I miss your calming influence as you ran up to bowl. I miss those lethal in-swingers, those incredible reverse swinging deliveries and those lovely yorkers you dished out. I miss those innumerable memories you gave me through this past decade.
I will always remember your debut series in the ICC-Knockout 2000 very fondly. In the match against Australia in that tournament, you had rattled Steve Waugh with a searing full-length delivery. It was a scene that I had never seen before from an Indian fast bowler. It got me excited. It got my heart racing. You followed up that performance and knocked over many other batsmen in the series with some scintillating yorkers. As an Indian, it was pure delight and thrill to see my country’s fast bowler running up fast, bowling at speed and getting some of the best batsmen in the world out bowled in such an emphatic manner. I will never forget those moments and several more like that which you gave me.
There are so many of your golden performances that I look back at today with great relish. Be it your 9-wicket haul against England in that historic Nottingham Test which led us to victory in the match and the series or the 5-95 against Australia in the famous drawn Test match at Brisbane where you had the Aussies dancing to your swinging cherry. You bowled many a ‘peaches’ in your lifetime to the best of batsmen and got them stunned. It was because of you that the great batsmen from Western shores learnt to see the Indian team in a new found respect.
Even on the flat Indian wickets, where pacers from the others sides would wither away, you were an absolute delight as you swung the ball and got many a famous batsman out with your canniness. Then who can forget your incredible performance in the ICC World Cup 2011 where you were the leading wicket-taker of the tournament with 21 wickets. Others got a lot of credit for India’s triumph in that championship, but there is no denying that it was your leadership with the bowling, your incisiveness on the dull Indian tracks and your ability to outfox the best batsmen is what got us ahead of other teams in that tournament. You were our unsung champion of that tournament.
There was a reason that Dhoni called you the ‘Sachin Tendulkar’ of our bowling. Because like him, you got better with age. You were like that old wine; getting tastier as it gets older. Sure you lost your pace, but you became more intuitive. You became the thinker and the other bowlers rallied around you. Your presence was crucial in building the confidence of our young bowlers. The invaluable inputs you have given them will surely serve them long.
And today, as our bowling unit gears up to go into another world championship at home, I feel they need a leader desperately. In those flat tracks, where batsmen will pulverize every bowler, you would be thoroughly missed. But perhaps, this is the way it was meant to be. Perhaps this is the way you wanted to pass the baton to the younger ones in the team; hoping that they would have learnt just enough from you.
Life will go on. The Indian team will win and lose several matches in the coming days. I too will keep supporting our team no matter what. But something will feel amiss. Zak, your void is so huge for this Indian cricket fan that it would be hard to fill by anyone else. For me, you were the best Indian fast bowler after Javagal Srinath and were one of the best in the world at your prime. Your pleasant smile, your slight jump while delivering the ball, your pumped up aggression upon taking a wicket, your never-say-die attitude, will always stay with me; all with their poetic charm intact. Yes, life will go on indeed. But we will never ever have another player quite in the mold as you. You truly were a great servant of the nation. You truly were a legend.
All I hope now is that you lead a rich life in your second innings. May you be as successful in it as you were in your cricketing avatar. Take care Zak. And now, I will go to bed and close my eyes. In the hope that when I wake up, I will still find you running up to bowl and crashing the stumps of a certain Steve Waugh with your reverse-swinging yorker.
Your ever truly fan