Zak, a first class leader

He set the field and strategised bowling changes. From the inner circle, he groomed every bowler to pass through India's Test ranks in the recent past. A former captain credited him for making a struggling number six batsman into Virender Sehwag, the opener. The incumbent captain refers to him as the 'Sachin of bowling.'

In an unofficial capacity, Zaheer Khan is perhaps India's finest leader of men on a cricket field. Yet, as of Friday evening, the fast bowler had never captained a side in first-class cricket. Not even as vice captain, in any of the 157 matches with Baroda, Mumbai, Worcestershire or India.

Perhaps this is how Zaheer liked it —lead without the scorching focus that burns every Indian captain. Or perhaps, his fitness made it impossible for both Zaheer and the selectors to seriously consider his name with the enviable suffix to it. Zaheer Khan, captain.

Yet, that is precisely something he will have to get used to, even if temporarily for at least the next four days.

On Saturday morning, for Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy against Gujarat, Zaheer will make his captaincy debut. While it will be interesting to see how the shy man from Shrirampur deals with the responsibility, many feel that this 'debutant' has more experience in maneuvering his ranks than all the other skippers in the country put together.

There could be a lesson to be learned here, especially for Team India's warring factions — all openingly aspiring for the captain's job without a hint of subtlety in their statements or their actions. Zaheer has proved that it is possible for a senior player to mentor his side without any titles.

He single-handedly taught a few, guided others and coach some more. For Zaheer, it was the burden on the shoulder that mattered. Not the band around the arm.

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