Mumbai: Recalling fond memories of time spent on and off the field with recently retired left-arm seamer Zaheer Khan, Indian pacer Ishant Sharma credited the 37-year-old with constant guidance and support which helped to mould him into the bowler he is today.
Zaheer called time on his 14-year-long international career on Thursday due to a series of injuries, the latest being a shoulder complaint. He made his India debut in 2000 and played his last game for the country in 2014 against New Zealand at Wellington.
"I was able to transform myself into the team's leading pacer because of what he taught me. No one knows how big an influence Zak pa has been in my life. He groomed me as a bowler," Ishant was quoted as saying by BCCI.tv on Friday.
"He (Zaheer) took a young, raw fast bowler under his wings and made me the mature bowler I am today. I owe so much to Zak pa, and I cannot thank him enough for all that he has done for me," he said.
"I looked back at my initial days as an international cricketer and how Zak pa helped me to become the bowler I am today. He was my first idol, a role model who later became a very dear friend," Ishant said.
About his good performance in the 2008 Allan Border-Sunil Gavaskar series, Ishant said, "A very good example of what difference Zak pa made in my bowling was the 2008 Border-Gavaskar Series. I picked up 15 wickets and was declared the man-of-the-series. Why? Because of Zak pa. In India, a pace bowler's biggest strength is the reverse swing."
"At that time, I could only reverse the ball in. Zak pa taught me how to reverse the ball away from the batsman -- simple things like how your hand should be and where the seam should face. It was a very small thing but it made a huge difference," he said.
The 27-year-old believes that replacing Zaheer as the spearhead of India's pace attack was not an easy job.
"I have missed that in the recent past, missed having him around, especially on the field. Since the time Zak pa has not been part of the team, my role has changed, as the most experienced pacer. It was a big responsibility. Replacing Zaheer Khan as the spearhead is not an easy job," he said.
Ishant wished his mentor the very best in his post-retirement life.
"I will not play Test cricket with him again. But he has served the country brilliantly for so many years and perhaps, he felt it was now time to do something else. I wish him all the very best in whatever he decides to do in his life from here on," Ishant said.