'Need to take it one step at a time' - Irfan Pathan
Irfan Pathan has said that Delhi Daredevils' performance in IPL 2011 has been a big disappointment but the team "atmosphere is still very good". He also credited his captain Virender Sehwag for keeping the squad together despite the struggles. Delhi were eliminated from the race for a place in the playoffs after losing to Mumbai on May 7.
Sehwag, who will miss the last three games of the season to have shoulder surgery, was one of the few consistent performers for Delhi. It was because of two breathtaking innings from him that the team stayed in contention for as long as it did. With him sidelined, and James Hopes set to lead the team, Irfan told ESPNcricinfo they needed to "play our hearts out in the next three matches and show things aren't that bad. Then we can take all the positives to next year's tournament."
A lot was expected of Irfan after Delhi signed him for $1.9 million but it has been a tough season for the allrounder as he made his way back from a serious back injury that had kept him out of competitive cricket for over eight months. He started poorly with the ball, picking up only three wickets in his first six games, and while he admitted he would have liked more success, he said he expected to need some time to find his groove.
"Some really good cricketers are there at this level," he said. "I knew I had to give myself some time. The team really helped me out. They played me in back-to-back matches and that got my rhythm going."
Over his team's previous five games, though, he showed flashes of the Irfan of old, getting the ball to swing in to right-hand batsmen and going past 130 kph on the speed gun. His figures also reflected the improvement over the same span - 1 for 16 against Kolkata Knight Riders, 2 for 27 against Kochi Tuskers and 1 for 23 against Mumbai.
"I need to take it one step at a time. Just go one step by one step. I need to make sure first, I get my rhythm going, running well. Bowling in the right areas. Then swinging the ball. I should make it my second nature. The good thing is, I am not thinking about it. It is just happening."
Still, Irfan wished his results had been better this season but said he was "very happy with the process" so far, and credited assistant coach Eric Simmons, whom he described as "fantastic", for aiding his recovery. Irfan also said he was feeling good about how his body has held up after his long layoff and believed his rehabilitation gave him a better understanding of how to manage the demands of fast bowling. "I feel like I am in control of my body. I feel in control of my action ... This is the best I am feeling in last three years."
He is also still hoping, "like all cricketers hope," that he will get the call telling him he is part of India's touring plans later this year. But if not, he would like to play Twenty20 and one-day cricket in England once the IPL is over, as long as the BCCI gives him permission. "If I get to play some more cricket, it will be good."
Tariq Engineer is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo