Irfan Pathan makes his case for No. 7
Irfan Pathan, still on a comeback trail, has said that his reworked action, in which he delivers from a higher arm position, has helped him find his areas better, and made him a better bowler. He also feels he is in a peaceful mental state, not worrying too much about selection or results, and just staying happy.
"What I wanted to do in this [Australia] trip is, make myself a circle, where I am happy no matter what happens," Irfan said. "Even if I play, don't play, do well, don't do well. I have realised that there are certain things that are important in life. I am trying to stay in that circle."
That doesn't mean Irfan has not been working hard. It has taken him four to five months to get his action right, he said. "When I came in 2003, I had a natural action in which I used to twist," Irfan said. "When you are 19 and when you are 27, it's different. My action went wrong because of the twist. I kept going even more round-arm, side-on. That hurt me because I couldn't bowl in the right areas. The speed went out too and the swing was coming out of the hand.
"When I went to Sekhar sir [TA Sekhar, the head coach at MRF Pace Academy in Chennai], I worked on my action. It took me four-five months to change it to feel what I am feeling now. It's a long and slow process. When I worked with him in 2007, I started with just walking for a week. It took a month just to get a feel of it. Then it took four-five months in the change of action."
Irfan is happy with the swing he is getting, the accuracy and the variations. "Working with Eric Simons [India's former bowling coach] has also helped me," he said. "Getting help and getting the basics right is helping me bowl the yorkers and different variations. I am trying to get better. Sometimes the results happen, sometimes they don't. Obviously you need the help of the right people at the right time, which I have been lucky to get."
In his three ODIs in this tri-series, Irfan has bowled 29 overs for 153 runs and six wickets. He has opened the bowling, bowled first-change and has also been used at the death. It is, however, his batting that has provided a curious study of India's selections. It is clear to everybody that Irfan is a better batsman than Ravindra Jadeja, at least at the No. 7 position, which usually needs bigger, cleaner strikes in the final few overs.
It should be a no-brainer that Irfan should be preferred because wherever his bowling might be, it is likely to be more effective than Jadeja's. In fact Jadeja, always chosen ahead of Irfan, has bowled only 42.4 overs in six matches so far, for one wicket.
In one of the earlier press conferences, when asked to explain his choice of playing too many spinners in Australian conditions, MS Dhoni said he was handcuffed by the absence of a fast-bowling allrounder. It is easy, in this atmosphere of mistrust, to look at this as a case of favouritism, but when pressed Dhoni said Irfan was his fast-bowling allrounder, but he didn't want to play him as soon as he had arrived in Australia.
When Irfan did play, he was sent in at No. 9, where he hit a crucial six in a tie. Irfan took that sportingly. "You have to be realistic," he said. "What you have done in the past is totally in the past. You have to look at the current scenario. Ashwin has batted really well. He has a Test hundred and batted well in Australia. You want to get higher, but have to be realistic too."
The message, though, had been drilled home. In India's previous game, Irfan was promoted to No. 6, and scored 47 off 34 with hardly an undue risk taken. "In the last game, I got a hint that they would send me to use the Powerplay," Irfan said. "I am ready to bat wherever the team demands. It is not an issue for me. In terms of bowling as well, I am willing to bowl whenever they want me to, with the new ball or the old ball. As long as I am playing, I am happy."
How does Irfan see himself? Does he himself think he is that fast-bowling allrounder? "I think I am a bowler who can bat," Irfan said. "If you look at me in the nets, I always make sure I give equal importance to both aspects. When I am bowling, I make sure I bowl length at the start, use variations and try to finish it with death-overs bowling and variations.
"Same in batting. I pad up and wait for my turn and make sure when I finish my batting with regular bowlers, I try to do some extra throwing with the coaches, and bat some extra. Even in a match, when I bowl I am a bowler, and when I am batting, I try to think as a batsman. Unfortunately in the last match, I wanted to stay till the last, but the result didn't go our way.
"The best thing for me would be to take wickets. When I keep taking wickets, it helps my batting. And vice-versa. When I look at myself, I feel it's 60-40 - 60, bowler, and 40, batsman. But when I bat, I like to think as a batsman."
Does Irfan think he is ready to take - at least in Australia - the No. 7 spot, a position that has exchanged hands between Jadeja and Yusuf Pathan recently with no clear winner. "When you are not thinking about results, it comes," Irfan said. "Even for my short-term plans, [do] not think too much ahead, [do] not think too much back, stay in that circle [of happiness]."
Edited by Abhishek Purohit
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo