The former Indian fast bowler also weighed in on the ban on saliva to shine the ball
Former Indian fast bowler Zaheer Khan felt that the structure in place at the Mumbai Indians has been the secret to their success in the Indian Premier League (IPL).
The former left-arm pacer, who is the Director of Cricket Operations at the franchise, also said that scouting youngsters, grooming them and giving them the exposure and the platform to excel has also helped them break into the Indian team.
The Mumbai Indians are the defending champions and the most successful team in the league, having racked up four titles.
"Over the years, if you see the number of young talent that have gone on to represent the Indian team, the number has been very high," Zaheer told Anis Sajan, mentor of the Delhi Bulls franchise in the Abu Dhabi T10 League, also the managing director of Danube Group, in a video chat titled 'Cricket Unplugged with Anis Sajan.'
"The credit goes to the structure which MI has with regard to scouting young talent and encouraging them and promoting them, giving them the right platform, has been the DNA of their success," he added.
The 41-year-old, popularly known as 'Zak,' also felt that the approach both the Mumbai Indians and the Chennai Super Kings have taken is what separates them from the rest of the six franchises.
The Chennai Super Kings, led by former India captain MS Dhoni are close behind the Mumbai Indians with three titles.
"The IPL has its different dynamics since you have four foreign players and you have the eight Indian players. So, as a leader, you have got to be able to get the best out of your foreign players and your domestic talent. So the method which both the franchises have approached the game with has certainly been very fruitful for both," said Zak, who also represented the Mumbai Indians as a player and also played for the Royal Challengers Bangalore and captained the Delhi Daredevils (now Delhi Capitals).
Zaheer also fondly recalled his time captaining the Delhi Daredevils.
"It has been fantastic captaining an IPL team for sure. I had a lot of youngsters around at that time and it also came at a good time for me, to stay connected with the game at that stage. I was also not really playing international cricket that much around that time. So, that gave me freedom to really devote myself and to have such talented, young bunch of cricketers around," said Zaheer, who led them in 2016 and 2017.
"That really makes it exciting because you can have a lot of knowledge to share with and that is something which I always enjoyed doing. So, my time with the franchise, leading the franchise, was about sharing as much as possible and letting those youngsters express themselves out on the field. So, we had a good run. It was a team which did a lot of damage and surprised a lot of franchises. It is a pity that we couldn't really go to that play-off but we certainly had the team and we had a great time with a bunch of youngsters," he added.
Zaheer, who took 311 wickets in 92 Tests and 282 scalps in 200 ODIs, also weighed in on the ban on saliva to shine the ball because of the Covid-19 pandemic, saying it does affect swing.
"When you have limitations with how you are going to maintain the ball, it may not be a bad idea if you give a solution which all the teams can access and leave it with the umpires. For any bowler, it is very important if they have to get that swing going, you need a nicely maintained cricket ball. Sweat on the ball is also like saliva so why put sweat on the ball? So, maybe you can have one solution for everyone to access and use just to maintain the ball so that the swing of the cricket ball stays intact," he said.
Zaheer, who was the leader of the pace attack during his playing days, also said that India's current fast bowling stock was down to the evolving structure.
India now boast of a battery of fast bowlers in Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ishant Sharma.
"I think it is the overall structure. If you look at Indian cricket and how it has grown, every decade, you've seen a growth. The approach also has been changing. And when I say approach, I'm talking about the game getting more and more professional. You've seen the days when you have hardly seen any support staff travelling with the team to having an whole army of support staff, which is creating a robust system, which is giving you access to excel," Zaheer felt.
Talking about India's exit in the semifinal of last year's World Cup, Zaheer said: "It is just about that one passage of play can really change things and you have to be prepared for that. For the Indian team, from the previous World Cup, the takeaway is that. You know you have had such a strong batting line-up which has been carrying things through in all the matches. But it is just that one game when it mattered, things didn't go your way. And that is something that can happen in a tournament like that."
"A lot has to go well when you are talking about a tournament like the World Cup. And also, a lot of strong teams can have that one passage of play which can throw things out of the window. And in a tournament like the World Cup, it is also about gaining momentum at the right stage. You saw New Zealand gaining that momentum and things going their way in that particular match, which England was very happy with because they had to play New Zealand in the final instead of India."