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Irfan says he can better debut season for India

Nagraj Gollapudi and Tariq Engineer

December 4, 2011

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Irfan Pathan is about to send down a delivery during a training session, Lord's, May 30, 2009
Irfan Pathan says he worked on his action ahead of the 2011-12 Ranji season © Getty Images
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Irfan Pathan has said he is fit and fresh, and in line to better his performance in his debut season for India - 2003-04 - after emerging as the leading wicket-taker in the Ranji Trophy's Elite group so far, with 21 wickets. It's a timely return to form with the selectors due to name Praveen Kumar's replacement for the tour of Australia on Monday.

"I feel I am one step ahead of what I wanted to be in terms of the way I am bowling," he told ESPNcricinfo.

He did not want to talk about selection but reasserted his goal. "My dream is still to play for my country, play for that jersey, play for the pride. I would do anything. I would go and bowl 100 overs if need be; I would keep performing to fulfil my goal."

Irfan's last international match for India was during the 2009 World Twenty20; his last Test match was against South Africa in April 2008. He spent most of last season out with a severe back injury and even his IPL stock was plummeting as his bowling lost its prodigious swing.

"The whole experience was enlightening," Irfan said about his recovery from the back injury. "When you are fit you do not concentrate on yourself, you concentrate on the batsman - how to set him up, how to lure him into your trap. At least you try; it might work at times and it might not at other times. When you are not fit, when your action is not within your control; that is when the trouble starts."

The trouble, though, seems to be in the past. This Ranji season Irfan has had three five-wicket hauls - the first two, against Madhya Pradesh and Haryana, came in the second innings, but last week he overwhelmed Delhi in the first innings with both the new and old balls to pick up a seven-wicket haul.

"At the moment the way the ball is leaving my hand is nearly the way I want it to leave," Irfan said. "It is a very good sign. At the same time I have been quite lucky and quite blessed to perform well for Baroda so far. If things progress in the same fashion I really think this season is going to be even better than the 2003-04 one." He had announced himself during India's tour of Pakistan in March-April 2004 during which he took 12 wickets in the three Tests.

In the past Irfan had said he regretted being the first-change bowler for India, as bowling with the old ball did not help him get as much swing as would have liked. Now, though, he says he has learned how to use the old ball much better. "The new ball has been wonderful, but I have a very good feel of the old ball and that is a positive sign for me. If you are getting set batsmen out with the old ball, it is most pleasing."

Irfan said the guidance of fast-bowling coach TA Sekar, who worked on Irfan's bowling action after the 2011 IPL, has played a big role in him re-building his confidence. "He worked hard with me for a couple of months post the IPL with the idea that by the time the domestic season arrived my [tweaked] action would be second nature."

Sekar had helped Irfan in 2007 when Irfan had a disastrous year: he was sent back to India midway through the South Africa tour. He lost his confidence then but Sekar worked hard with Irfan to make sure he would not fall apart.

This time the pair worked closely again with Irfan sending Sekar his match videos. Sekar even travelled to Rajkot to watch Irfan during the Syed Mushtaq Ali domestic Twenty20 tournament. "Primarily, he changed my whole body alignment going towards the target," Irfan said. "In the past I was bowling with a mixed action but we corrected that. That has actually made my line much tighter, it has helped me keep my wrists straight and importantly allowed me to bowl where I want to bowl."

Irfan played the JP Atray tournament, the Challenger Trophy and the Syed-Mushtaq Ali Trophy to refine his action. "I knew by the time the Ranji Trophy comes I should be on top of my game, I should be match fit and I should be bowling the way I want to bowl. It was a process of two months but by the first match of the Ranji season I was on top of my game."

Irfan said he is spending less time in the gym than in previous years but "more and more" time on the ground.

One of the reasons Irfan had been dropped from the India setup was that he had lost a few yards of pace. He said he is bowling at good speeds now but does not bother about what the speedometer's readings say. "It is very important for me to have that zip off the pitch with which I can get a batsman lbw. When I lost out on a lot of things, when my action went wrong, people started talking about my pace, my wrist position, my swing. A lot of things were not going towards the target. But after the IPL if you look at my dismissals I have got them bowled, lbw, caught-behind or caught in the slips. That is a sign that I am getting the right zip from the pitch and I am bowling at the correct speeds.

"I need to stop looking at the speedometer. If I can concentrate on dismissing batsmen by swinging it late, or making them play and miss, keeping them troubled with my lengths, then speed can take care of itself."

He said a good example of the way he should bowl was his performance on the first day of the match against Haryana, when he took just one wicket but kept the batsmen guessing. "I was beating the bat and I was very happy with my bowling."

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo; Tariq Engineer is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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Posted by candyfloss on (December 6, 2011, 15:07 GMT)

@Meety I disagree with you. I am an Indian fan and would like to see Umesh Yadav too in the line up, he is a promising prospect and can bang it in and extract bounce from what I have seen in the ODI's and Ranji.Bounce at 140+ is surely handy and leaving him out would be a mistake.Beisdes Praveen is injured so his chances of playing are nil.

Posted by   on (December 6, 2011, 2:00 GMT)

Ifran and Ishant had performed in Australia and if they are fit should open the bowling. Ifran is younger than Zaheer zaheer should not have gone to england with an injury.

Posted by   on (December 5, 2011, 18:45 GMT)

Dear Irfan, I am a huge fan of your cricketing capabilities. I believe, and this is heresy to many, you are the best fast bowling all-rounder India has produced - ever. I was confounded when you lost that brilliant inswinger and alarmed when the speedometer dipped below 125Ks. I am thrilled you are back in the reckoning. IMO, for India to do well outside the subcontinent, we require you for team balance in all three formats - hope your batting focus does not waver. Best wishes. Murali

Posted by stark-truth on (December 5, 2011, 18:42 GMT)

It seems a desperate attempt to create an expectation bubble which will lead to his selection for the Aussie tour. It seems nigh impossible to capture the same venom and bite of bowling that Irfan had seven years ago. He cannot possibly be bowling anymore at 140 kph with exaggerated swing.....so I won't hold my breath for a sensational comeback crystallizing.

Posted by AKG0479 on (December 5, 2011, 18:17 GMT)

29 Tests 100 Wkts.. 100 ODI's 154 Wickets.. Irfan Pathan surely is a talent.. but wasted efficiently by lot of factors.. India saw a Wasim Akram in him.. at least I saw.. BCCI owes to give this chap one more chance.. or may be two.. !

Posted by nofx on (December 5, 2011, 17:04 GMT)

Awesome :-):-):-) so many fans waiting for your trademark In swing.....!!! I still cannot forget his Hatrick against Pakistan.....I always use to think, how a bowler like that capability of swing bowling, lose his form, the selectors got to give him a chance... Irfan we all are with you... All the best :-)

Posted by PradeepR on (December 5, 2011, 17:03 GMT)

Ishant has been a liability after his test series in Australia. Even Umesh bowled better than Ishant in his recent debut series when Ishant was the senior most bowler on the Indian side.

Posted by harikeshan on (December 5, 2011, 15:50 GMT)

Its a welcome relief to see a postive and more mature Irfan emerge just by looking at his recent performances. People are too quick to judge a cricketer and made unfair comparisons of him being the next Kapil or Wasim in terms of an allrounder, adding undue pressure. People should have allowed him to go out there and enjoy the game. Then again being in the wilderness does do wonders to cricketers, just like it did to Langer, Hayden, Sehwag etc. They come back hungry knowing that their next game could be their last. Best wishes Irfan and wish you all the success.

Posted by   on (December 5, 2011, 15:26 GMT)

Pathan has been out of the international arena since a long time now... and if he makes a comeback then he has to make the most of it.. he has to cement his spot straight away in the Indian Test side aswell as the ODI'S and T20's.... all d best Pathan.!! Hope to see u soon in the Indian Jersey :)

Posted by Naresh28 on (December 5, 2011, 14:59 GMT)

@RandyOZ - it is no good to just write off this Indian team or any cricket team that is in the top 4. You will learn a lesson for being so naive. I hope Irfan gets into the Indian team - Zaheer, Sharma, Yadav, and Irfan will form the pace attack. Just use check out the player page on Irfan - he has taken 900 odd wickets in all formats of the game. He has a big fan base.

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