A tour de France

Zaheer Khan and Yuvraj SinghZaheer Khan and Yuvraj Singh, both fit, but one carrying injury scars and the other with illness trauma, were to surface in a city, or rather a commune, in southern France, conveniently well-connected by major autoroutes yet refreshingly disconnected to the clutter of the outside world

After an injury earlier this year, Zaheer Khan, in his quest to regain full fitness, headed to what was an unlikely destination for a cricketer: Brive la Gaillarde, a town in western Europe. On this journey, he was joined by a like-minded Yuvraj Singh. Sandeep Dwivedi finds out how the duo went through 'Hell' to emerge stronger, lighter, and happier.

For Zaheer Khan, the New Year didn't live up its good old promise of erasing old woes and penning fresh starts. In fact, for the injury-troubled pacer, the start of 2013 was about an abrupt pause that came with a musty feeling of gloom and a familiar ache.

On January 1, earlier this year, Zaheer sat in the dressing room during the Mumbai-Gujarat Ranji Trophy game nursing a calf strain. Injuries are a known devil for the pacer but that hasn't made the fight to overcome them any easier. Thanks to groin niggles, dodgy hamstrings, shoulder and ankle surgeries or even several slow, long rehabilitation stints abroad, Zaheer has spent more time with physios, trainers and doctors than coaches or his teammates.

At 34, he has sat out one-fourth of the Tests India have played in the last six years. The year has seen Zaheer miss the Test series against Australia at home, most of IPL 6 because of a side strain and, later, the England-bound plane with the Champions Trophy squad on it.

It was during this low period that he met Sudhir Naik, his old coach from his early days on the Mumbai maidans. "We met several times after the IPL and I found Zaheer unusually subdued," recalls Naik. Just to get him talking, the 68-year-old coach reminded his favourite pupil of an old conversation. "Three years back, Zaheer had told me that he wanted to finish with 100-plus Tests. I asked him if he had scaled down his ambitions now." He didn't say a word but gave a slight but stubborn shake of the head.

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