The left-arm pacer is 37, and last played for India in a Test two years ago. He used to repeatedly break down in the previous few seasons, but Daredevils are counting on Zaheer as a mentor even if his role as a frontline bowler will depend on his fitness.
The Daredevils seem to have taken a leaf out of India’s book. In the lead up to the World T20, fellow left-arm paceman Ashish Nehra was recalled to the side. While he was excellent, bowling at the start and finish, skipper MS Dhoni drew on the 36-year-old’s experience to decide on tactics during tough match situations and to guide other bowlers.
T20 was seen as a young man’s game due to the physical demands it makes, but seniors have gradually asserted themselves.
Zaheer joined Daredevils midway through the last season and even won a Man-of-the-Match award for a spell of 4-1-9-2 against Chennai Super Kings. The Daredevils, though, finished the season seventh, one spot from the bottom.
“He is fit and eager to play. That is the best thing. He has loads of experience and it is important to share this knowledge with the young kids. He was helping the bowlers last year but as captain, he will be more helpful,” said Daredevils CEO Hemant Dua.
IPL teams ensure that they pick players who can also mentor talent. Dhoni, as Rising Pune Supergiants skipper, can consult Irfan Pathan, Ishant Sharma and South Africa T20 skipper, Faf du Plessis.
Sunrisers Hyderabad skipper Shikhar Dhawan can depend on Nehra, who will also be expected to mentor young Bangladesh paceman, Mustafizur Rahman.
Mumbai Indians will hope Lasith Malinga quickly recovers from the injury which sidelined the Sri Lanka paceman in the World T20. Malinga’s influence is seen in Jasprit Bumrah’s ability to effectively bowl yorkers in the death overs.
The Suresh Raina-led Gujarat Lions can bank on Dale Steyn and Praveen Kumar while Kings XI Punjab have Mitchell Johnson to guide Sandeep Sharma and Anureet Singh as well as help Mohit Sharma regain his wicket-taking ability.
Aussie Chinaman bowler Brad Hogg, who turned 45 on Wednesday, is with the Kolkata Knight Riders after playing for Rajasthan Royals.
Zaheer’s role will be even more crucial as Daredevils have three left-arm pacers in their ranks — Pawan Suyal, Chama Milind and Khaleel Ahmed.
However, fitness will be the key. Nehra has always put fitness over the number of games while Mumbai will have to be careful in managing Malinga’s workload.