He’s a player with talent and potential. So what has kept Irfan Pathan from making it big?
There are very few moments — memorable ones, at least — of Indian fast bowlers which are etched into the minds of cricket fans. Javagal Srinath yorking Javed Miandad in the 1992 World Cup is one. Ishant Sharma’s feisty spell in Perth against Australia in 2008 is another. However, there is one fast bowler who has not one but two moments which bring a smile to most supporters’ face: Irfan Pathan. He yorked Steve Waugh and Adam Gilchrist in 2003 and took a hattrick against Pakistan in a Test match in Karachi in 2006.
Back then, Irfan Pathan was the toast of the town. He was a decent batsman (far better than any other Indian bowler), bowled at reasonable pace and could swing the ball well. Some even called him the next Kapil Dev. But then things went downhill and Pathan became a footnote in Indian cricket history — one of those who had talent and potential but never capitalised on them. “When I look back on it, I do feel the expectations were enormous,” says the 27-year-old who now plies his trade with the Delhi Daredevils in the Indian Premier League.
With his talent and looks, Pathan quickly became the poster boy of Indian cricket. Endorsements, fame and money soon followed as it seemed that India’s quest for an all-rounder had finally come to an end. (All-rounders are hard to come by because of the sheer effort it takes.) But destiny had other plans for Pathan. He has seen at least five fast bowlers make their debut since he was dropped from the Indian team. Pathan’s fairytale run came to an abrupt halt and experts were bewildered with his fall from grace. He, however, says he doesn’t want to dwell on the past. “I have been playing well and with God’s grace will be seen in Indian colours soon,” he says. There were reports of him missing out on selection to the India tours as he failed to report to duty. But he says that they were baseless and his commitment towards Indian cricket has never been in doubt. “Be it Baroda, Delhi Daredevils or the India team, I have always given my best and will continue to do so,” he says.
Pathan’s rapid decline in form is often blamed on the then Indian coach, Greg Chappell, who wanted him to become a batting all-rounder. However, Pathan blame only bad luck, injuries and lack of form for being out of the Indian national team. “Injuries took a toll on my bowling and I lost a bit of pace,” he says. His confidence was down and he looked a pale shadow of the player who had shot into prominence. According to former chairman of selectors Kiran More, Pathan still has the talent and ability to hold a permanent spot in the Indian team. “His talent has never been in doubt but his fitness levels weren’t up to the mark at times.” For someone who was compared to the legendary Wasim Akram, Pathan failed to live up to expectations. More believes that the pressure got too much for him, something the fans and media are quick to pile on. “He is more mature now and is aware of what is needed from him,” says the former keeper.
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Pathan’s international career record is more than decent. In 107 ODIs, he has taken 152 wickets at an average of 29.90 and has scored 1,368 runs at an average of 22.80. In 29 Test matches, he has 100 wickets to his name and has scored 1,105 runs. “He was a bit inconsistent but always had talent, and now he has regained his fitness,” says Sandeep Patil, director of operations at National Cricket Academy, Bangalore, where Pathan did a short stint before the IPL season began a month ago. Patil didn’t comment on Pathan’s chances of making a comeback and said it’s the selectors’ job to pick the team.
It has been a frustrating few years for Pathan. He did quite well in domestic cricket, yet failed to make the cut for the Indian team. “I have been performing consistently well but somehow things haven’t happened,” he says. In the last two years of domestic cricket he has been the highest run-scorer and wicket-taker for Baroda. In 2009-10, he took 22 wickets and scored over 400 runs. Even in IPL, he took 15 wickets and scored over 250 runs for Kings XI Punjab. Yet he was ignored by the selectors.
Pathan swapped Mohali for Delhi in the current IPL season. The Daredevils paid Rs 8.7 crore for him, clearly showing that he is still valued. His performances this season have been decent and his captain, Virender Sehwag, was quoted saying: “Pathan has come back from an injury and is getting better day by day.” In the first edition of IPL, when Pathan’s star wasn’t on the wane, the Mohali team paid Rs 3.7 crore for him.
Pathan wants to share in future glories and is confident of making a comeback in the national team. Delhi Daredevils has blown hot and blown cold this season, though Pathan says he enjoys the experience of being part of a new team. He loves playing the IPL and believes that it’s a fantastic experience just being around so many talented players from different countries. But he has set his sights on the national team. India would be touring the West Indies and England this year.
It’s been more than three years since Pathan last played a Test match for India, and over two years since he played an ODI. Many believe he has lost the fire in his belly and is not mentally strong enough to recover from the setbacks in his career. He rubbishes all such claims and says that the hunger and desire are stronger than ever. “I look at my brother and I get inspired to make a comeback in the national team,” he says. Public memory is short when it comes to good performances. It’s the bad ones that linger in their minds.