Even as a depleted India battled it out in the middle, Zaheer Khan began the process to get back to action late on Friday afternoon.
Just about 20 minutes before the tea break on Day 2, he left the sanctity of the pavilion to the elaborate gym at the MCC Cricket Academy overlooking the nursery ground. He was accompanied by team trainer Ramji Srinivasan and a hefty security guard.
Zaheer pulled out of action on the first day of the first Test after straining a muscle in the right thigh. Sadly for him, and India, he was just about settling down into a rhythm, evoking some pace and the right amount of swing when the mishap hit him.
He had bowled just 15 deliveries in his third spell, his 14th overall, he stopped short in his follow-through and bent over to clutch his right leg. Many believed it was the end of his tour; some even kissed the series goodbye.
At close of play, the Indian team official announced that it was just a strain. Early on Friday morning, the good news was relayed. He won’t be bowling in the first innings. But he will be fine and will even bowl, if required, in the second innings.
The Indian think-tank clearly didn’t want to rush him back into action and risk losing him for the rest of the tour.
India’s bowlers struggled without him on a bright, sunny day, with Kevin Pietersen making his way to a solid century. Captain Dhoni even shed his pads to make up for his absence and bowled as many as 8 overs in two spells. “Zaheer is eager to get back into the middle,” a team source said. About 20 minutes later, he showed it too, heading towards the gym in the team’s official training gear. He began immediate work on his leg muscles with a 30-minute stint on the cycle.
With one eye firmly on the television, which was broadcasting the Test live, he began pedaling away. He took it easy, though, just going through the motions, rather than pushing himself too hard. After a five-minute break, he worked with dumbbells and plates, focusing on his shoulders and back.
Ramji meticulously took down notes. Interestingly, co-pacer Sreesanth joined him later, working on his own fitness regime.
The Indian batsmen will have to score big when their turn comes. They need to do it not only to save this Test but also to save their key pacer. Zaheer would dearly like some time before he bowls his next over.