The year was 1996 in which a gangly fast bowler from Gagu Mandi made a dream debut. He destroyed an accomplished New Zealand batting line-up snaring 11 wickets to help Pakistan square a two test match series in Rawalpindi.
The pundits took immediate notice and he was hailed as the fastest bowler in the world, a man who had a great career ahead of him.
However, his career dwindled away and soon he was a forgotten man.
Fifteen years later, Mohammad Zahid now settled in Liverpool, is keen on nurturing upcoming fast bowlers yet deep down he has some bitter memories.
In an exclusive interview for Dawn.com, Zahid claims that his career went past him in a jiffy.
“I guess they did not like my face, I tried my hardest every time, ran in ball after ball, my passion was cricket and playing for Pakistan was the realization of a childhood dream, yet I was never given a consistent run despite bowling in great pain”.
After his debut series, Zahid made a mark in Pakistan’s remarkable triumph in the tri-series in Australia in January 1997, the series featured the hosts and the West Indies besides the men in green.
Zahid was at the peak of his prowess and the great Brian Lara found him the toughest and the fastest bowler that he had faced by then.
“Those were the golden days of my life, I was extremely happy with my performance and was greatly inspired by the legendary duo of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis,” stated Zahid.
After the Australian tour Pakistan had to take on the Sri Lankans in a two test match series in the pearl island. The conditions were extremely difficult for fast bowlers, the Ws pulled out before the first test and a weary Zahid nursing a stiff back was forced to bowl long spells in oppressive conditions.
For Zahid the series was a massive disappointment as he suffered a serious injury which took the sting away from his bowling.
“I told the team management that I was struggling with my back, despite my complaint I was forced to bowl. As a rookie I could not turn them away, by the time the series finished my back gave in and I spent one year in rehabilitation from a career threatening stress fracture”.
A year later, Zahid made a comeback in the Sahara Cup against India in Canada. Against doctors’ advice Zahid was asked to bowl long spells in the second test against Australia in 1998 in Peshawar.
“The Ws were unavailable for the match, Shoaib Akhtar and I were summoned to bowl on a flat deck and Mark Taylor scored a sublime triple century”.
Zahid was a forgotten man after the series; he was left out of the 1999 World Cup squad. In his absence, Shoaib Akhtar stole the limelight and replaced him as the fastest bowler in the world.
For Pakistani cricket fans though, it was a setback as the dream of seeing four of the fastest bowlers in the world the Ws, Shoaib and Zahid in one test never realized.
Four years later, Zahid made another appearance on the international stage; however he failed to live up to expectations and was left out after the tour of Zimbabwe and South Africa.
His international career was limited to a mere 5 tests and 11 ODIs, a man who had an incredibly smooth run-up and action ala Michael Holding was sent packing without him ever realizing his true potential.
Now as the 35 year old spends his time coaching in Liverpool, he wants to groom young players and despite moving away, his heart beats for Pakistan.
“I want to contribute in a different way, I don’t believe in the academy system in Pakistan my aim is to unearth the talent in the rural areas and help overcome the regional bias and prejudice that has hurt the game in the country”.
Zahid thinks that he was neither the first nor the last one to suffer from the inconsistent policies of various regimes of the Pakistan Cricket Board.
In his opinion, some incredibly talented players have been lost to the shoddy system.
“The likes of Saleem Elahi, Mohammad Akram, Aamer Nazir, Fazle Akbar, Shadab Kabir and Asim Kamal were all world class yet were lost to the system. The irony is that these players are not from one particular province, they are from all over the country which means that any player from any region/province can suffer at the hands of the administration.”
Married to an English woman, Zahid has his eyes set on serving the game as long as he lives and even now he cherishes his dream debut and the run in Australia.
“No one, absolutely no one can steal those memories from me”, concluded an emotional Zahid.