From last Friday's opening over, the 28-year-old left-armer confounded batsmen with his swing bowling to compile a match haul of nine wickets, putting India on the brink of a first series win in England for 21 years.
The tourists showed a real grit and determination to succeed in Nottingham after barely escaping defeat in the drawn first Test at Lord's, where rain intervened to save India when they were down to their last wicket.
The final Test starts at Oval next Thursday.
Former skipper Kapil Dev and Madan Lal hailed good teamwork, an improving overseas record and a shift of focus from spin to pace for the reasons behind the team's revival since a disappointing World Cup in March.
"Everybody has contributed to this win," former all-rounder and coach Madan Lal told reporters on Wednesday.
"If you look for one hero, that was Zaheer. He has put you on the victory stand."
Zaheer displayed his fitness by bowling 48 overs over both innings to return match figures of 9 for 134, having regained his rhythm with English county Worcestershire last season, where he took 78 wickets.
"The fire he lacked has come back," Lal added.
Zaheer was recalled in December after being sidelined for almost 10 months due to poor bowling form and fitness problems.
"The way Zaheer demonstrated swing bowling, as a bowler I'm proud of him," Kapil said.
"What I find beautiful about this victory is that today we depend on our fast bowlers to win.
"We played three fast bowlers, something we've not done in the last three decades," he told Aaj Tak TV channel, referring to the three-pronged pace attack which shared 13 wickets.
India now have a good crop of young pacemen which has helped the team smooth over injuries and poor form.
"We may not have genuine quicks, but we can confidently say our seamers can go abroad and beat teams at their own strength."