Mumbai, Oct 16: Left-arm seamer Zaheer Khan's retirement from international cricket has posed a serious question to India: who can be the next Zaheer? But the man himself believes that current speed star Umesh Yadav has the potential to step into his shoes but only if his talent is nurtured and maximised.
The 37-year-old pacer ended his 14-year-long international career due to a series of injuries, the latest being a shoulder complaint. He made his India debut in 2000 and played his last game for the country in 2014 against New Zealand at Wellington.
"Umesh is good with pace and the movement he gets. He definitely has got potential and that potential needs to be maximised is what I have been saying," Zaheer told IANS in an exclusive interview here, after announcing his retirement.
Umesh, who made his debut for India in May 2010 against Zimbabwe, has so far played 15 Tests, picking up 48 wickets. He has also appeared in 52 One Day Internationals (ODIs), claiming 72 victims.
'Pace is important'
"Among the Indian pacers I think, pace is important and balance needs to be maintained. The attack needs to be settled, its a process, you will find the right guys to do the job and right guys who are in the rhythm," he said.
Zaheer has left the stage after playing in 92 Tests and 200 ODIs, claiming 282 and 311 wickets respectively. He has also taken 17 wickets in as many T20 Internationals.
"I think the whole journey has been special, outstanding and cricket has been my life. It is very difficult to pinpoint one incident. Walking away with lot of fond memories, good friendships, so everything has happened to me at the right moment. But I can say winning the 2011 World Cup here was a great moment for me," he said.
He announced his retirement after a shoulder injury that has put paid to his efforts to return to action, capping a 14-year career punctuated by considerable success as well as crippling injuries.
"It was the right time for me to call time on my international career, that's how the whole thought process had happened. As I was preparing for the season, I realised that yes in terms of playing at the international level is what I am not looking at now. The realisation happened and that was the right time when I decided it is the right time to call it a day," the bowler from Shrirampur, Maharashtra, said.
'I am happy'
"Things happen when you have such a long career, injuries happen and we again make a comeback. From that after being dropped (dropped in 2012 after third Test against England at home) I have come out of that situation, is how I look at my career. The fact that I did make my comeback, worked hard, played some domestic games and performed there has always been a process. And I am happy about all things that went for me," he said.
The 37-year-old has had on-field tussles with a number of opposition batsmen, but the on-field confrontations with former South Africa captain Graeme Smith are unforgettable.
Zaheer stayed defensive when asked about the toughest batsmen he has bowled to, pointing out that any in-form batsman on a given day is tough to bowl to.
"Any batsman who is in form is tough to bowl to. It varied from series to series. If the best of the batsmen are not in-form it is right that you should be attacking," he said.
Zaheer termed former New Zealand cricketer John Wright and former South Africa batsman Gary Kirsten as the best coaches he has played under.
'Enjoyed under all captains'
"John Wright and Gary Kirsten were the best coaches I have played under. They were the ones who got the best out of me during their tenure with the team," he said.
Speaking about his stint under various captains including Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Zaheer said, "I enjoyed bowling under all captains, Ganguly, Dravid, Dhoni. I was happy to get the fields which I wanted all the time as a bowler that's what you look for. And all the captains share a very good rapport with me and supported my unconventional way of setting field at times. I am very grateful to them."
The left-armer thanked all the people who played a big part in his career adding that he would not have been the person he is today without their support during tough times.
"The list of people to thank is a big one. If one link would have been missing I would not have been standing here and talking to you. They all know that I am grateful to them and thankful to them for their support during crucial stages of my career," Zaheer said.