He is one of the most rhythmical bowlers on the world stage, with brilliant variations of pace, and the rare ability to swing the ball both ways.
Zaheer, just 17, making his India one-day debut in Nairobi
But Zaheer Khan, who leads India's bowling attack in the Test series against England, may have been on the international scrapheap by now but for a brilliant season with Worcestershire in 2006.
The first arrival of Zaheer was a barn-storming one.
Jaded Indian cricket observers were shocked from their slumber at the ICC Knockout Trophy in October 2000 when a left-arm seamer - already tall and well-built - produced a series of stirring performances.
On his 18th birthday he helped dump the Aussies out of the tournament by dismissing Adam Gilchrist and Steve Waugh.
Soon the young man from Maharashtra made the step up to the Test arena and the improvement was steady.
Zaheer took seven wickets in a single Test in Sri Lanka, and had his moments on a losing tour of New Zealand.
He had an excellent 2003 World Cup and removed five of the top seven Australians in the first innings of the Brisbane Test later that year.
But a recurring hamstring injury picked up in the same match did so much damage it took him almost a year to fully recover.
His greatest attribute is that he very quickly assesses pitches and batsmen
Worryingly, some of the Zaheer zip had gone, and a new wave of fast bowlers such as Shanthakumaran Sreesanth, Irfan Pathan and Munaf Patel meant he was not a regular selection.
There was only one thing for it - a spell in county cricket to rekindle his appetite for wickets and remind the selectors of his ability.
Worcestershire captain Vikram Solanki says the relationship between the player and county was symbiotic from the start.
"For him to be so committed and driven to perform was obviously going to benefit both parties," Solanki told BBC Sport.
"He was fortunate enough to get off to a good start and took it from there - there weren't very many games when he didn't get at least five wickets.
"He's a very gifted bowler with an ability to swing the ball both ways. He has learnt the art of reverse-swing, I think, by playing so much in the subcontinent.
"But I think his greatest attribute is that he very quickly assesses pitches and batsmen and then bowls accordingly.
"Within a couple of overs you could see him set the way he was going to bowl for that game, on that pitch and against the line-up he was facing.
"Quite often there were cases where on a really slow pitch quite a lot of people would think there was no point running up and bowling fast.
The finished article? Zaheer in full flight this June in Belfast
"He had the opposite attitude, thinking 'I need to generate pace on this pitch, bowl aggressively with an aggressive field'.
"Then at Worcester he might get a pitch that was more helpful to seamers with a little bit of lateral movement and he would almost bowl like a little dibbly-dobbler, hitting areas and knowing he did not need to expend too much energy to bowl."
Worcestershire got full value out of Zaheer, who played in all 16 Championship matches.
Of his 78 wickets, nine came in a single innings against Essex at Chelmsford when - out of nowhere - he found vicious reverse swing on a flat wicket.
But for Steve Davies dropping a tough catch, he would have had all 10.
Zaheer's success at Worcester had its desired effect - he is now likely to share the new ball at Lord's with Sreesanth.
England's batsmen should certainly face a more testing examination from Zaheer than they did from any of the West Indies bowlers.
"If he's in decent form he'll be a force to contend with in the Tests," said Solanki.
"The season he spent here has made him aware of the conditions so he'll know what to expect at the grounds.
"If he's in any sort of nick then he will be a handful."