India in Sri Lanka 2012 July 13, 2012

What is Irfan Pathan?

Bowler? Bowler who can bat? Allrounder? Bowler who can't bowl his quota?

Irfan Pathan is back. Again. Not in Terminator sort of way. Not least because he didn't promise he'd be back when he left. He never does.

Nor is this a Rambo-like sequel. This is the continuation of the old story featuring that same unanswered question: who exactly is Irfan Pathan? To be precise, what exactly is Irfan Pathan?

Irfan began as a delightful swing bowler. Then he became an occasional pinch-hitter who batted more than he slogged, with genuine potential for being an allrounder. Then as his bowling deserted him, he eked out appearances because of his batting. Then he was dropped, forgot his batting, and came back as a bowler who batted better than the designated allrounder in the same side but wasn't allowed to bat higher than No. 9. Consequently he is a specialist bowler who has bowled his quota in only three of the last ten ODIs he has played in.

One of those uncompleted quotas - nine overs for 61 runs against Bangladesh, which contributed to an India loss - seemed to have put him aside for a while, but in a can't-live-with-or-without-you manner, India have called Irfan back again to replace an injured specialist bowler. There is no rule set in stone to suggest that a replacement should be strictly like for like, which could suggest picking him ahead of Praveen Kumar might be a belated admission that the original squad for Sri Lanka was an allrounder short. However, don't hold your breath: Irfan is not considered an allrounder. That much was clear in Australia, his first proper test on his last comeback.

MS Dhoni, his captain, said as much when he bemoaned the absence of a "seaming allrounder" even before that ODI series began. That statement needs to be seen in the context of Ravindra Jadeja, the preferred allrounder, struggling to bowl well on seamer-friendly pitches and being clearly out of his depth as a batsman at No. 7. So stubborn was Dhoni that even when Irfan was eventually picked, thanks to injuries to others, he was sent in at No. 9, behind R Ashwin. Sure enough, at No. 9, Irfan hit a six crucial to India coming out with a tie.

When Dhoni sat out a game because of an over-rate ban, stand-in captain Virender Sehwag promoted Irfan to No. 7, where he scored an attractive 47 off 34, only for Dhoni to return and demote him to No. 9 again. It was clear that despite the conditions being in Irfan's favour, India were not going to use him as an allrounder, for whatever the term is worth in the Indian ODI squad context. Even when they left Jadeja out in an Asia Cup game, Yusuf Pathan was his direct replacement, and Irfan had to rely on his bowling alone.

What perhaps goes unsaid here is that Dhoni doesn't want to play with any fewer than four fielders who can dive around and help him control the game. That was the reason he kept out one of the big three. And with the openers and himself ruled out, Dhoni is left with just three if Irfan is played at No. 7 with more specialist bowlers to follow. Jadeja can dive around; Irfan is strictly a safe fielder. It appears that four extraordinary fielders is a non-negotiable: when Jadeja has played himself out of the team, India are happy with a batsman who can bowl part-time spin but, more importantly, allows Dhoni to control the game through his fielding. It doesn't help that since Kapil Dev India have produced only one fast bowler who is also a better-than-safe fielder, Ajit Agarkar.

Irfan was to keep his place in the side on his bowling alone. He is simply not back to being a good enough bowler to do so, especially in the subcontinent. The captain's lack of trust in Irfan's bowling shows in how he repeatedly fails to bowl his ten overs, despite there being two new balls, which should counter his ineffectiveness with the old ball to some extent. Sooner or later he was bound to lose his place, and it happened in Bangladesh. With India hardly playing any cricket outside the subcontinent in the near future, his goose seemed to have been cooked.

Not quite. When R Vinay Kumar was ruled out with a hamstring injury, India went to Irfan, and not Praveen Kumar, a better specialist bowler by all accounts. Which brings us back to the possibility that the selectors might have picked Irfan to address the absence of an allrounder, once again a term to be taken with a pinch of salt in the Indian context.

Now that he has been picked - for whatever reasons - it will be interesting to see how India use him. If they play him as a specialist bowler, they might not have the luxury of not bowling him out, what with part-time spinners already under pressure to share their quota of ten overs. If he is played at No. 7, Dhoni will have to make do with just three fielders capable of charging and diving around the field. There is also the possibility of his not getting a game. Yet another series, then, in the life of the unanswered question: what exactly is Irfan Pathan?

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Viswanath on July 16, 2012, 11:55 GMT

    Irfab can be more than just a replacement to Vinay Kumar, why the hell the selectors are going for Vinay at the first place.. Pity!

  • Shiv on July 15, 2012, 14:05 GMT

    The best solution is to drop Dhoni. No politics just pure sport.

  • Gaurav on July 15, 2012, 11:36 GMT

    @ Binu Joseph :- despite of all those ducks Agarkar has better average and better Strike Rate both as a bowler and as a batsman...and if u r speaking about 1 match then am quite sure that no one has forgotten what happened in world cup 2003 FINALs?? and ofcourse the 1 Over of it....???

  • Dummy4 on July 15, 2012, 9:57 GMT

    No matter Irfan Dhoni or any body LIONS WILL BLOW THEM OUT

  • Dummy4 on July 15, 2012, 7:13 GMT

    @ india champ add the five consecutive ducks also with his stat and 1999 wc match vs zim

  • Gaurav on July 15, 2012, 6:21 GMT

    Continuing with my stats on is what our best bowler (zaheer) has done:- Batting (ODIs) :- 790 runs at average of 12.15 and strike rate on 73.55, 69 4s and 24 6s, Higest of 34 and 42 Catches all in 195 matches Bowling (ODIs) :- 278 Wickets @ 29.03 with economy of 4.91, 7 4 for and only 1 5 for. Strike Rate on 35.4 Now tell me if Zak is considered the best, how come Agarkar turn out to be useless even after the fact that he has much better stats??? only if Economy which he has of 5.07 is just a touch higer then ZAK??? any comments on how selectors work??? ANY ONE???

  • Gaurav on July 15, 2012, 6:11 GMT

    well while reading the article i came across a name AJIT AGARKAR (does anyone remembers him any more)..well i will share some of his stats here :- 3rd Highest Wicket Taker in ODIs for India (288, only after greats like Kumble & Srinath) at economy of 5.07 (consider a touch higher) and average of 27.85 (certainly good) held record for fatest to reach 50Wickets (broken by Mendis) took 4 for 10 times and twice achieved 5 For in ODIs. took 52 catches (was considered as one of the safest fielder) could ball consistantly at 135+ awesome inswing and outswings he had. That was bowling now comes batting :- Fastest half century for India (21 Balls) 3 50+ score whith highest of 95 batting at No. 3. Average 14.58 (good for lower order batsman) 103 4s and 22 6s, Strike Rate of 80.62 (better then plenty) and fastest to make 1000 Runs and take 200 Wickets in ODIs even before Kallis. century at lords in tests ofcourse... So the question is where is he now??? y was he dropped when he was in top form??

  • Varadarajan on July 15, 2012, 4:42 GMT

    Irfan in my opinion, if he learns to bowl fast accurate left arm spinners (like jayasoorya or Ghavri)' , he would be very useful for the team. He can start with a new ball (two to three overs) and then in the middle overs use the old ball to bowl some quick spinners . This is also useful when it is found the pitches are more suitable for slow stuff rather than for the medium pacers. By doing this he could also save some energy which would be helpful for the fielding nd batting

  • Dummy4 on July 15, 2012, 0:54 GMT

    I think he's a bowling allrounder, he will do a good job with the ball but he offers something with the bat at number 7 or 8, he is good enough to be promoted to pinch hit. His test batting average of 30 is very similar to flintoff from england and he was a genuine allrounder

  • Dummy4 on July 14, 2012, 19:03 GMT

    Praveen could have been a better replacement than Irfan, specially because Irfan does not bowl that well in death and even Praveen at times is handy with bat too. I used to be a great fan of Jr Pathan, but somehow it was for his batting skills. Bowling has constantly faded. I will pick him in 14, but would not give him a match till someone gets injured. Yes he can be used as an allrounder, but not when we have such a list of great Batsmen. And once yuvraj is back that allrounder slot closes on its own. An ideal setup without Tendulkar would be 1- Gambhir, 2- Sehwag, 3- Kohli, 4- Yuvraj, 5-Rohit, 6-Raina, 7-Dhoni, 8- Ashwin, 9-Praveen, 10- Zaheer, 11- U Yadav with Tiwary and Rahane batting backups and Vinay and Irafn bowling backups. We need to also choose between Ojha and Jadeja, because Ojha has continuously done well as an international bowler.

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