India news December 20, 2010

Irfan confident of swinging back into contention

Irfan Pathan is not optimistic about making a comeback to the India team; he is confident he will be back. It has been two weeks since he resumed bowling, as he recovers from a stress reaction in his back that kept him out of the Ranji Trophy, and, more importantly, India's list of 30 probables for the 2011 World Cup. Despite not making the squad, Irfan remains undaunted.

"I have that confidence because I have started bowling and I see it [the ball] is doing something,' Irfan told ESPNcricinfo. "I am working on something that was missing over the last two years. I am pretty sure it is going to make a big difference. If you look at my age, I am just 26. There are lots of years left in my bag."

He is thrilled his brother Yusuf has made the 30-strong squad, saying it was great news for the family that "if one Pathan brother is not there, another one is there". He described Yusuf's match-winning innings of 123 in the fourth ODI against New Zealand as "one of the best innings played by any cricketer".

Irfan said he is about 20 or 30 days away from being ready to play a competitive game and is willing to play cricket outside the country if he gets an offer. His goal, however, is to play in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, India's domestic one-day tournament that will be held in February, strangely, at the same time as the World Cup. "I want to make sure I make an impact in that," he said.

The injury, he admits, has been particularly frustrating, coming as it does before a World Cup at home. But he accepts injuries are a part of a cricketer's life and believes he has coped with the situation well. "I knew because of my injury [I would not make the squad]. I need to first sort it [the injury] out. To be fit, and then match-fit. The BCCI knows about my injury. And I knew that if I have not played any matches due to injury, it will be difficult to get into the 30. By the time I play, it will be January-end and the World Cup is in February. I won't be match-fit, and you have to be playing matches to be picked."

One thing that has kept his spirits up is the support he has received not just from his friends and family, but from the BCCI itself. "They have really looked after me. They sent me to Australia, and done all the check-ups. They have been really helpful. The National Cricket Academy has also been really helpful. Physios and trainers looked after me really well. That means I am still in the frame."

The Baroda Cricket Association has also extended their help to Pathan and he expects to receive his certificate of fitness from the BCCI by the end of next month and his voice conveys a definite sense of excitement and confidence as he talks about planning a couple of bowling sessions with his long-time coach, TA Sekhar to help him nail down his old form once he is fully fit.

Irfan, who last played a Test for India in 2008, believes he was losing his height in his delivery stride, and has modified his workout so that he has a more stable core, allowing him to keep his shape better. He disagrees with those who claim he needs to develop more pace, saying he was never an out-and-out quick. His strength has always been his ability to shape the ball and his record proves his effectiveness. "Batsmen are not my relatives, that they have just given me wickets."

At the same time, he is focused on getting his zip back and his pace up to around 132 kph - his normal speed. "People keep quiet once you start performing. I never run away from criticism. It is always going to be there. But I am pretty confident I am going to change all the talk."

He does not believe he has anything to prove anymore but just wants to go back to being a kid who enjoys playing cricket for India, be it Twenty20 games or Test cricket. To do so he has even given up on his favourite indulgence - food - to make sure he isn't overweight when he starts playing again. "I don't drink. I don't smoke. I don't go to night clubs all the time and enjoy parties. But I love food. I am a foodie. I like going to restaurants with music where I can talk to my friends. But now I am not eating too much. I am eating healthy and I feel light, I feel strong."

Tariq Engineer is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo