All Indian eyes will turn to Zaheer Khan when he takes the ball at Durban, quite possibly today itself. The burden on his shoulders to deliver has increased for several reasons. For one, none of his fellow-pacers in the side looked threatening at Centurion and secondly, India might wind up its innings at another low score in a crucial match. Will he be able to immitate the fire and pace of South Africa's strike bowler Dale Steyn?
After all, his opposite number bears many impressive credentials. Steyn is presently the number one ranked Test bowler in the world and bowls at speeds of around 145–150 km/h. Steyn holds the record for the fastest South African to reach 100 wickets in Test Match cricket, a feat he achieved on 2 March 2008.
So how does Zaheer look against Dale Steyn? To begin with Steyn is a valuable five years younger than Zaheer and is close to his performing best, while one could argue that Zaheer is past his prime. The Indian left-armer was at his peak from April 2002 to Dec 2003, taking 54 Test scalps in 16 matches, but his form and fitness has deteriorated from that high.
Steyn has a total wicket tally of 224 wickets in Tests from 44 matches at a staggering average of 23.65. Whereas Zaheer is a ways behind with an average of 32.22 with 260 wickets to his credit from 76 Tests. Steyn has notched up 4 ten-wicket-hauls, 14 five-wicket-hauls ad 14 four-wicket hauls, whereas Zaheer has taken 1,10,13, respectively.
Zaheer is also considerably slower than Steyn, merely managing to hit the 140 mark. Over the years, Zaheer has also lost his deadly knack of swinging the ball both ways, or it is noticeably less now than it used to be. He also doesn't get as much bounce as Steyn. Plus, Steyn is the leading wicket-taker in the ongoing series with 11 wickets under his belt from less than two matches, while Zaheer is yet to get on the charts.
Zaheer will have to therefore, pull something extraordinary out of the bag in order to surprise South Africa. Of course, captain Dhoni will look to him to lead the pace attack, so much will depend on how he inspires his fellow speedsters. Go for it, Zaheer!