The best and possibly the only way to get back into the national team is by performing well. Both Zaheer Khan and Gautam Gambhir did exactly that in the last four days, and it seems the work put in by the duo is paying off, with the two - along with Cheteshwar Pujara - contributing immensely to India A's victory over West indies A in the third unofficial Test at Hubli on Saturday.
Following a spell of poor form, both Zaheer and Gambhir were dropped from the Indian team. While Zaheer decided to get himself in shape first, Gambhir decided to get as much match practice as he possibly could. Zaheer went to France to get trained under well-known trainer Tim Exter and followed it up with a short trip to South Africa where he honed his skills with the South African provincial team Knights. And the results of that hard work is showing up now. From France, the pacer returned fitter while the South Africa trip seems to have helped him get back to match fitness.
Gambhir decided to play county cricket in the off-season. He might not have got plenty of runs - he scored just one century for Essex - in England but the outings did help him to iron out the technical flaws in testing English conditions.
The performance of the duo - Gambhir made 123 and Zaheer took a match-haul of 5 for 92 - against West Indies A - should give them hope for a Test recall in the home series against West Indies next month. The MS Dhoni-led side has a gruelling next year, and the availability of the two seasoned campaigners will help them on the tough tours of South Africa, New Zealand and England.
Pujara, who himself laid the foundation of a massive India A total with an unbeaten triple century at Hubli, praised the efforts of Zaheer and other pacers as the hosts levelled the three-match series 1-1. "Their strength was spin and ours was fast bowling. There was enough help for fast bowlers and wasn't much for spinners," Pujara said after the match on Saturday. "I think their fast bowlers didn't bowl well, but ours did better which was required," he added.
Talking about his own batting, the India A captain said: "When I got to my hundred, that's when I started playing my strokes because I knew the conditions and capitalised on bowlers getting tired. It was not an easy job to bat for nearly ten hours which required a lot of stamina. I had been working on it for the last four to five months."
India A coach Lalchand Rajput too lauded Zaheer's effort, saying the Mumbaikar was slowly getting into the groove and certainly looked match-fit. "In the first innings, Zaheer bowled really well. I am sure these [first-class] matches will help him get back to his rhythm," he said.