Pallekele: Zaheer Khan is just one game away from becoming the third Indian paceman, after Kapil Dev and Javagal Srinath, to feature in 200 One-Day Internationals. Whether that milestone will - and should - come up on Saturday, in an inconsequential game against Sri Lanka, or later in the year when Pakistan visit India for a three-match series, is the big question.
Zaheer will be 34 in October, his lower body has been ravaged by a series of injuries - groin, knee, calf, ankle, you name it. India have a gruelling season of Test cricket ahead, with 10 Tests lined up between the third week of August and late March, all at home. Zaheer, it goes without saying, is the most vital and incisive cog in the Indian bowling wheel, so it is imperative that his workload is managed, that he remains fresh and up for the massive challenges England and Australia will pose during successive four-Test series.
Not since Kapil burst forth in the late '70s as a tearaway quick, who gradually had to drop pace to meet the demands of being both the stock and the strike bowler, has an Indian paceman had so much riding on his shoulders. Srinath had the good fortune of being part of a set-up in which Anil Kumble, and then Harbhajan Singh, were equal wicket-taking partners. Especially since Kumble's retirement in 2008, Zaheer has often had to plough a lone furrow, both at home where his mastery of reverse swing has come to become decisive, and overseas where favourable conditions have brought the best out of him.