ICC World Twenty20 2012 September 14, 2012

Buoyant Irfan relishing top-flight cricket

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Four days before the World Twenty20, Irfan Pathan seems lighter. It's not just that he looks leaner in a tight-fitting India practice shirt than he has been since his last major injury; it goes deeper than that. It's in his disposition, the way he quips at the start of each question before answering it in earnest. Smiles, delivers each sentence with poise; his expression giving away that he is loving every moment of being inside that shirt, even when he is off the field. It's a lightness of being, and it's infectious. A state of mind he says he had to find to cope with frustration of his stuttering international career.

Even before a back injury ruled him out for eight months in 2010, Irfan had been in and out of the national team for reasons of form and fitness. He arrived on the international scene with the pressure of being expected to be the next Kapil Dev, and perhaps he allowed that to wear him down mentally in his younger years, as his body continued to break down just as he had seemed to build some momentum in his performances. Now, though, those expectations are the farthest thing from his mind, he says. He has learnt to let go, learnt to take each match in isolation and to simply be grateful for the good days.

"This is what I've learnt throughout the year," he says. "I love playing, but sometimes you just put too much pressure on yourself by thinking about performance. Eventually you have to come down to the level where you love the game and you just play."

Irfan was part of the squad for the ODI tri-series in Australia early in the year, but could not convince the selectors to give him another extended run in the national team. Perhaps long-standing perceptions of him as an underachiever and too slow a seamer to be effective at the international level, were taking their toll on the opportunities provided to him.

"A lot of people talk about my pace, but I'm generally never bothered. I'm not an out-and-out quick bowler. Everyone has their own gifts and I have my strengths and weaknesses as well. I'm really happy with my seam position, and I've done a lot of work on that. I'm really happy with the way things are going and the zip that I'm getting off the wicket."

"I've tried to learn a few tricks in terms of thinking out the batsmen. The more experience I have, the better I'm getting in terms of that. I think that long term, that's what I want to keep working on"

That "zip" saw him become one of the leading wicket takers in India's ODI series against Sri Lanka in July and August. It was a series he wasn't initially picked for, but was drafted in when Vinay Kumar withdrew through injury. He was still fairly pedestrian in terms of pace, but what brought Irfan results was working out his opponents and bowling to a strategy.

Upul Tharanga is one of the best cover drivers in the Sri Lanka team, but Irfan turned his opponent's strength into a weakness in the fifth ODI when he pitched one slightly shorter and wider of off stump and drew the batsmen into an aerial stroke with short extra cover in place. He had tried the same ploy in the previous over and been creamed for two fours through point, having missed his length. Irfan stuck to his plan, though, and gleaned the reward. He was a man marked out for his raw talent as a 19-year-old, but eight years later, the canny tricks of experience are what are bringing him results.

"I've tried to learn a few tricks in terms of thinking out the batsmen. The more experience I have, the better I'm getting in terms of that. I think that long term, that's what I want to keep working on."

For now, Irfan is just happy that this latest comeback has lasted this long. "I will do whatever the team needs," he says. Batting at three or as low down as nine, bowling with the new ball or the old, he's simply visibly ecstatic to be part of the team at all. Having shed the ambition and expectation that crippled large parts of his career, Irfan has made things simpler for himself.

Yuvraj Singh's return to international cricket has hogged the headlines, but quietly, in the background, Irfan has been scripting a comeback tale of his own. He will hope this one will be his last.

Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent in Sri Lanka

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • dummy4fb on September 16, 2012, 15:45 GMT

    Irfan has got immense talent that has been underutilized by the Team India. by bad luck he is often out of the team. Now I feel his time has come again. He is a very good batsman too, but India still not utilizing the same. Given adequate opportunity, he could be the best All Rounder after Kapil Dev Lets us all wish Irafan All the best! I am sure future is Irfan's

  • AbAdvani on September 16, 2012, 5:25 GMT

    We all should thank Vinay Kumar -if he had not got injured, Irfan would not have got his second wind back and he would not have been part of the T20 team despite the fact that he is the only one who comes close to being a genuine all rounder in the Indian team. Captain Dhoni's picks for all arounders like Ravinder Jadeja and Piyush Chawla have been a total embarrassment, so he probably has lost hope of backing any all rounder in the team. The BCCI bungled yet again by picking Vinay Kumar ahead of Irfan for the Srilanka series but God had other plans.

  • Naresh28 on September 15, 2012, 22:03 GMT

    With injuries and age taking their toll on ZAKS, I think IRFAN can step into those shoes in all formats of the game. My only wish is that India finds more backup bowlers . With batting the talent is there and available - not so with bowling

  • dummy4fb on September 15, 2012, 9:52 GMT

    if he performs constantly,india could not depend upon zaheer khan

  • dummy4fb on September 15, 2012, 8:56 GMT

    Irfan is the best All rounder india has produced for over last 2 decades. I still dont know why he was kept out of the team for such a long time.

  • dummy4fb on September 15, 2012, 8:43 GMT

    All the best Irfan.. I am a huge fan of yours .. .You are an asset to the team for your ability to clear the ground and taking wickets with the new ball..... I am really happy with the way you are going....

    I truly agree with you ADI_GUNGALIYA_FANTASY.

  • Joby_George on September 15, 2012, 6:47 GMT

    Irfan is the best All rounder india has produced for over last 2 decades. I still dont know why he was kept out of the team for such a long time.

  • dummy4fb on September 15, 2012, 3:41 GMT

    all the best pathan brothers

  • TSJ07 on September 15, 2012, 3:38 GMT

    @bilalquerashi:-I f partly agree with u that he was used as pinch hitter and he then lost his swing due to his main focus on batting instead of bowling but he was asked to do so by Greg Chappel and not by Indian though captain was Indian.Also he got instant fame at very young age which partly shifted his focus away from cricket. BTW cricketers like Miandad should have have made such idiotic comments.Now plz tell me which Pak player is fast bowling allrounder after Imran and Wasim though Wasim was not true allrounder like Imran,Botham,Kapil,Gary Sobers and my fav Sir Richard Hadlee.

  • dummy4fb on September 15, 2012, 3:02 GMT

    irfan has done very very since his come back he is swinging the new ball and bringing the ball in ..................... taking wickets with new ball ..... but this is real time for him he has too do well in t20i world cup .. if he perform well swings the call takes wickets with the swing then automatically all the mouths of the critics will b shut..........

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