India may be deprived of a key component in its infantry as they take on hosts South Africa in the first Test at Centurion on Thursday, Dec 16. The visitors are in the unsavoury position of most probably missing the services of Zaheer Khan who is wilting under the strain of a hamstring injury that he has picked up in the last few days. His inclusion in the side is doubtful, that the captain and management are leaving the decision till the morning of the Test. "We'll take a call tomorrow morning before the start of the game," MS Dhoni said.
Dhoni knows how big a setback it would be if Zaheer is no fit to play because while Sreesanth and Ishant Sharma can be effective, they don't possess the kind of control that Zaheer has.
"Zak has been our best bowler who has always led the bowling attack, whatever the conditions may be, whether it is a flat track or a seaming track," Dhoni said on the eve of the first Test. "He is always one bowler who has done really well. It is a blow, but at the same time we have to see the longer picture. We have to think about the World Cup also."
In the say leading up to the Test, Zaheer has not immersed himself wholeheartedly into the training session. On the first day, he only managed to do some fitness drills with team physio Paul Close. On the second day, he posed as goalkeeper for a warm-up soccer game prior to workouts and then bowled only for a limited time in the nets. As it was raining on the even of the match, India were deprived of training with Zaheer, anyway preferring no to aggravate his injury.
If Zaheer is in fact dropped at the last minute, it will be the second time that India will be faced with such a predicament in the past year. In the Test series against Sri Lanka in July, Zaheer's fello- fast bowler S Sreesanth was struck with injury and had to be replaced by Abhimanyu Mithun who had a tough time contending with unresponsive tracks. Should Zaheer not make it, the rookie this time will be either Umesh Yadav or Jaidev Unadkat.
Unadkat has a slight edge over Yadav because he is a left-arm seamer and might be favoured for replacing Zaheer. "We'll have to see [as to who replaces Zaheer]," Dhoni said. "Whoever plays will be making his debut whether it is Unadkat or Yadav. We will discuss with some other senior players, and accordingly pick the best possible XI."
Dhoni sounded tentative abouty discussing the possible replacement for Zaheer. "Zak has done really well for us, but at the same time the guy who will be making his debut, what will be important for him will be to bowl to his strengths, said Dhoni". But the captain took heart from the fact that the pitch was conducive for fast bowling even if it did not possess too green a surface.