'A great feeling for the Pathan family'
Among the big winners on the first day of the 2011 IPL auction were the Pathan brothers, Yusuf and Irfan, whose combined bids totalled US$4m. While Yusuf, who was bought by the Kolkata Knight Riders for $2.1m, was always expected to attract one of the highest bids, Irfan commanding $1.9m was something of a surprise.
Irfan is still recovering from a back injury and hasn't played competitive cricket since last season's IPL (almost nine months ago). Yet, there was strong interest from five franchises at the auction, with Delhi Daredevils ultimately emerging victorious over Kings XI Punjab, which had bought Irfan in the 2008 auction for half of what Delhi paid this time around.
"It is a very good start to 2011," Irfan told ESPNcricinfo. "People think I am an important player. I am very pleased. It is a great feeling for the whole family."
Irfan, who watched the bidding live on television, admitted the high price tag would only add to the scrutiny of his performances as he targeted a return from his injury, but said it was all part of the game. "To be very honest, the more money, the more pressure there is. [But] pressure will always be there, whether you are playing for your country, or playing domestic cricket.
"I am feeling much feeling better. The way I am bowling, I will be able take any pressure."
Irfan was not selected in India's 30-man squad for the upcoming World Cup because of his injury and while he expected to return to competitive cricket with Baroda for the domestic one-day tournament in February, he realised the IPL was his best chance of attracting the attention of India's selectors ahead of India's tours to England and the West Indies next summer.
"It is a big platform for me. The whole world is watching it. Even though it is only a four-over game, people come to know what you can do. I want to play for my country. That is why I am working for hard. The best recognition you get playing for your country. It can't be replaced by money."
Irfan had an impressive IPL in 2010, even though Punjab finished at the bottom of the table. He was the team's third highest run-scorer with 276 runs at an average of 34.50 and a strike-rate of 148.38. He also took 15 wickets at a strike rate of 18.50 and an average of 28.40. He described his time with Punjab as "very memorable", saying it was an experience he would cherish all his life, and called Preity Zinta, among the co-owners of the franchise, "an amazing boss". He was also flattered that the franchise tried so hard to buy him this time around as well, but said now that he had a new team, it was time to look ahead.
"Delhi has been a really good side in the IPL and been performing really well even though they haven't lifted the cup. It is one of the biggest cities in India and has a larger fan base. I have played with Viru [Virender Sehwag] and I am looking forward to playing for Delhi."
Yusuf, too, said he was very pleased with the result of the auction, both for himself and Irfan, but added he wasn't thinking as far ahead as the IPL as his focus was on the ODI series against South Africa and then the World Cup. He did, however, admit he would miss playing for Rajasthan Royals, for whom he scored a memorable 37-ball hundred against Mumbai Indians, an innings Shane Warne called the best he had ever seen.
"Obviously I will miss Warne and Watson and the rest of team,' Yusuf said. "At the same time, I have always enjoyed playing in Kolkata because the people there love their cricket, and are passionate about it. The atmosphere is great. This is a great opportunity. It will be a new team, new players, but I have played with many of them. It won't be too difficult to adjust to the new set-up."
Yusuf said Kolkata had the makings of a good team and could potentially make the final with the likes of Jacques Kallis, Gautam Gambhir and himself. He tipped Gambhir, under whose leadership he played in the ODI series against New Zealand, where he made that savage match-winning hundred, to captain the side. He was also looking forward to being part of a team owned by Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan.
"Shah Rukh likes his cricket. Whatever match is there, he comes to the ground and watches. I will get to learn something new here."
With inputs from Sidharth Monga
Tariq Engineer is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo