St. Lucia:When he made his international debut, he was a tearaway fast bowler, raring to hit the deck to extract pace and bounce.
Ten years on, Zaheer Khan has emerged successful, matured, intelligent seamer who uses the conditions to the hilt to get maximum results.
Along the way, he has shouldered the responsibility of spearheading the Indian attack and mentoring young fast bowlers. But Zaheer is enjoying every moment of his responsibility.
"I am at a stage in my career where more responsibilities keep me motivated. It is very important for one to enjoy the pressure of spearheading the attack and playing at the highest level," said Zaheer.
He is happy to mentor young fast bowlers in the national team, reflected in Ishant Sharma's success in Australia (2007).
"My role as senior pacer has not changed. It is always good to have youngsters coming along and share some of your experience and at the same time learn a few things from them. Learning never stops," said the 31-year-old, who has 488 international wickets under his belt, including 11 in the Twenty20 format.
Zaheer has always been a quick learner, though former India coach John Wright might have loathed his diffidence when he had just about broken into the national team in 2000.
"In the Twenty20 format the first six overs are very crucial where the batsmen are looking to score at every ball. The pressure is always on the batters to hit the ball right from the start. That is the reason captains are eager to try out new things.
"They introduce spinners so that they can apply brakes on the momentum. The game is evolving, new strategies are in perspective and the understanding of the game is getting better every day," said Zaheer.
Zaheer noted that it was important to a have proper game plan in Twenty20 format.
"It is imperative to have a clear game plan in Twenty20. The game is so dynamic that there is not much time to think. We need to have a proper plan before going into match.
"We need to understand what are batsmen's strengths are and set fields accordingly. We saw a lot of bowlers using different fields in the Indian Premier League. Earlier, we hardly saw a fielder at mid-wicket.
"Now you see it regularly. The pressure is on batters to score at a high rate. That is the reason for improvised shots. The bowlers are using the slow bouncer to good effect to contain batsmen," said Zaheer.
Zaheer is relieved that the Twenty20 World Cup would not exact as much pressure as the IPL did.
"The IPL being a huge platform, the pressure to perform is very high. You are sharing more responsibility in terms of taking a lot of youngsters along.
"A lot of domestic players are also playing. But it is not the case in the Indian team scenario as all the guys are experienced. They have been playing together for a long time and are more or less aware of demands of game. It is a lot more relaxed atmosphere."
Zaheer was glad that his buddy Ashish Nehra had made a successful return to international cricket.
"He has always been a good friend. I am very happy that he has made a successful comeback and taken responsibility of sharing the new ball. I hope he stays injury free because he is a big asset as far as the bowling department of Indian team is concerned."
Zaheer believes that India has the team to regain the T20 title.
"There are other teams which are equally determined and have the potential to win the title. But we have a very good combination with a good mix of bowlers and batsmen. If we perform as a team, we should be to return home triumphant," signed off Zaheer.