Irfan roused by the Ranji challenge
It's around noon on a wintry day in Hyderabad and the few people who have turned up for the home side's game against Baroda are soaking up the sun. Everything seems blissful, fuzzy and warm. But Irfan Pathan is angry. In fact, he's screaming. He is standing in the middle of the pitch, arms akimbo, directing his ire at the hapless second-slip fielder who just hangs his head down.
Ravi Teja, the man Irfan is desperately trying to dismiss, has just flashed a delivery past that fielder, standing wide, almost at third slip. The ball whizzed past, he didn't react. Irfan vents his anger in Gujarati and heads back to his run-up but he is not done yet. He clears his throat again: "Catch drop hota hai toh theek hai, lekin effort to kiya karo (It's okay if you drop the catch but at least make an effort). " Irfan's frustration, desire and ambition echo round the near-empty stadium.
He'd bowled his heart out on a comatose wicket and got a few wickets as a reward. "Six wickets," he reminds you at the end of the match. And he also tells you the exact number of overs - 51 - he had bowled. "No other seamer from either team got more than three, you know," he says. True but no one else has played for India or is trying to break down the doors of Test selection.
It has to be said, though, that he did bowl very well on a wicket that was dry, slow and didn't offer much bounce. Conditions didn't abet swing or seam movement.
Irfan, who is yet to find the banana inswing that used to be his signature when he was in his pomp, sussed out the situation well and chose to create angles with his attack from round the stumps. He repeatedly brought the ball back into the right-handers and occasionally, straighten it from that angle. "You can't afford to be predictable on these tracks, you know," he said. "When you are bowling from over the wicket and especially when the pitch is very dry, it doesn't swing in the air much. You have to do something. So I went round for a majority of time."
And, he adds, "I was quite successful in that as well."
"The first innings I bowled really well and there were a few dropped catches too but I managed to trouble the batsman on this flat track. Masha Allah, I bowled well."
That he did. With the new ball, on the second day, he scythed through the inexperienced Hyderabad line-up. Twice he got the ball to go through the gap between bat and pad to clean up Amol Shinde and Habeeb Ahmed before trapping Ashwin Yadav in front.
But he knew Hyderabad's best batsman was Teja; hence the outburst at the errant fielder on the final day. Irfan wanted to snare him for the second time in the game but was denied by the fielder.
"Teja played well, he went for his shots," Irfan says. "But at the same time, he was giving a few chances as well. For example yesterday [late on the third day] one edge fell just short of second slip."
Flash back to the first day when Teja had surprised Irfan with a wide array of strokes. When Irfan hurled in a few bouncers, Teja pulled them with ease to the boundary. Irfan cranked up the pace and with a deep square leg, a fine leg and a short leg he banged a few in, only for Teja to defend them. Irfan then bowled one fuller, and saw the Hyderabadi wrists deftly steering it to the third-man boundary. Teja had scored 24 runs from 26 balls in Irfan's first spell, but Irfan exacted his revenge in the post-lunch session with a full delivery well outside off stump that straightened.
|Things are much better than they were last year, in fact much better than three years back|
The contest was resumed late on the third afternoon. In tangible terms, Teja had the better of that battle with confident boundaries and a few close chances that he survived, included the dropped chance that made Irfan lose his cool. He troubled Teja, but could not get him out as he eventually flicked a Yusuf Pathan delivery fatally into midwicket's hands. But considering the dead wicket, one might want to pick the bowler as the winner, but that might have to be weighed and cancelled out against the inexperience of the otherwise talented Teja.
Irfan certainly enjoyed the contest and is looking to run into more of the same during the next few Ranji games. "I am pleased at the way I am going. I am just quietly playing my cricket. I got six wickets here and just keep bowling the way I am bowling. In this wicket, getting six wickets is a pretty good effort. So you can see where I am standing right now. I just have to keep performing.
"I am happy with my performances in the ODIs and just waiting for my chance to get into the Test side. Things are much better than the way it was looking last year, in fact much better than three years back. That's what my feeling is."
And he assures us that he is very focused on the job at hand and he has no message to give to the selectors. "There is no need to say anything, no need to look here and there, I have to just keep doing my work." Can't argue with that, can you?
Sriram Veera is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo