Zaheer Khan 4/88, Ishant Sharma 4/79, South Africa 4/16

Zaheer KhanIndia's Zaheer Khan (L) celebrates after dismissing South Africa's Faf du Plessis during the third day of their cricket test match in Johannesburg, December 20, 2013.

It's not like he wouldn't take wickets with the new ball. Or that he wasn't a force to reckon with for opposition batting line-ups in his early spells. When Zaheer Khan was at his career's peak, it was generally as the shadows lengthened and the shade of the ball got murkier that he really came into his own.

It is then that he would unleash his bag of tricks and make the ball do things that batsmen wouldn't naturally expect it to do. It was also with the old ball that he would generally scythe through batting line-ups.

Back after long

On Thursday, playing his first Test match in over 12 months, Zaheer had shown that he was fit enough to bowl 22 overs in a day, including a ten-over burst only separated by the lunch-break. The left-armer had also continued his great hold over Graeme Smith, dismissing the South African captain for the 14th time in international cricket.

That he was the rudder that the Indian pace attack required in foreign conditions where the pitch had something in offer.

On Friday, Zaheer began proceedings with a ball that was well past its prime. It took only seven balls for him to prove that he still remained an indefatigable threat with an old-ball.

His first wicket was that of a well-set Vernon Philander, who had till then middled every ball he had faced. None of his boundaries had resembled a slog. After having bowled primarily over the wicket to him during the second day's play, Zaheer decided to change his angle of attack.

Off he came from around the wicket, getting the ball to pitch on a length just outside the off-stump. Philander had to play for the angle. But just as he got his bat near the ball it suddenly darted away from him, took his outside-edge and that was it for the burly South African pacer. That also meant that Zaheer had broken a crucial partnership that had threatened to bring the hosts back into the game.

... contd.

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