Sri Lanka v India, only T20, Pallekele August 7, 2012

All-round Irfan grabs his chances

Irfan Pathan has made the most of his latest comeback - now the challenge is to display the same kind of form in Indian conditions

Irfan Pathan is back. Again. With consecutive Man-of-the-Match awards. With a role in four of the five Indian wins on this tour. His previous comeback arrived after nearly three years, and lasted eight ODIs and one Twenty20 international before he was left out of the squad for this trip, despite very reasonable figures. Irfan was looking for a county deal; then Vinay Kumar got injured, and Irfan got a lifeline. And boy, he has grabbed it.

The highest wicket-taker in the ODI series. The most economical Indian fast bowler in the ODI series, ahead of even Zaheer Khan. Plus, two calm and decisive knocks with the bat when the team was in trouble. And a whole-hearted effort in the field. Twist the package any way you want, you will struggle to call it anything but all-round.

Before the series started, people were wondering how many games Irfan would get. The precedent was the way he had been treated in the ODI tri-series in Australia. He played half the number of games Ravindra Jadeja did and took twice as many wickets, and made almost as many runs. Irfan batted at No.9, Jadeja at No.7.

Fortunately for Irfan, Jadeja did not make this trip. But Irfan had to earn the team management's confidence, especially after MS Dhoni spoke about Jadeja's importance as a bowler before the first match. A first spell of 6-1-20-1 with the new ball in Hambantota set the tone for the series.

Irfan swung the ball regularly into the right-handers. His pace was steady, in the mid-to-late 120s, but he got the ball to bounce and zip off the pitch, which he has said creates opportunities for him. Importantly, he did not fall apart at the death. He was involved in two match-winning partnerships with Suresh Raina and Dhoni, sensibly rotating the strike during both stands.

Three games, he played as the allrounder, batting at No.7 with four specialist bowlers to follow. In the next three games, the team management developed enough confidence in Irfan's bowling to play an extra batsman in Manoj Tiwary.

Irfan was delighted to be back, and desperate to perform. He had gone through a phase where his back had troubled him so much that he had started to worry more about his body than his career. His action had been through so many ups and downs he had no clue where the Irfan of 2003-04 had disappeared.

He had bowled for hours in the nets and local games in his hometown Vadodara to try to get some of the shape back. People didn't believe him when he said he was prepared for a comeback. He returned to the side, did not get many opportunities, and was dropped again, but destiny probably owed him another chance.

Irfan wasn't going to let it go through want of preparation. Almost every game, he would walk to the side pitches before the start and bowl and bowl. He worked on his delivery stride and on his use of the crease. He did not face the best bowling in the nets as most of the India bowlers would be done by the time his turn came to bat, but he practiced his strokes against what was on offer. He stayed back on occasions after the rest had left to bat against throwdowns.

Despite his showing, he is still on trial, in a way. Duncan Fletcher, the India coach, said after the ODI series that Irfan had done a good job "at the moment". "I think he has got the potential," Fletcher had said. "We just have got to see him progress from here and see how he bowls in India and bats in India."

He will surely be tested in Indian conditions, and Jadeja could return into the equation as well. But for the moment, India can savour the return of someone who is the closest they have currently to a fast-bowling allrounder.

Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Joe on August 10, 2012, 17:01 GMT

    I admit Pathan played well but definitely not talented because he hasn't done too many special things just another average older player in all forms :)

  • Rajesh on August 10, 2012, 9:02 GMT

    Irfan contributed well with bat. But India would like to see more of him as a bowler. His bowling was just average apart from the early swing. Half of his wickets were from bad balls which the batsmen could not put away. To his credit even Irfan acknowledged this point. After having put in a dismal show in asia cup, he deserved not to be picked up. But luck was on his side and he used his chances. Let us see how long this comeback lasts.

  • Cricket on August 10, 2012, 7:56 GMT

    Last time Irfan got a wicket by the yorker (Like that of T. Dilshan in last series) was when was 20 years old! He has improved...He should be in Test team!

    See some stats of I. Pathan! In 2012 (after return) Matches: 12, Ave: 34.40, SR: 101.17 Matches: 12, wickets: 19 (best 5/61), Ave:29.15

  • Cricket on August 10, 2012, 7:27 GMT

    Why Pathan is changing his action in very series!

  • Sunil on August 9, 2012, 20:17 GMT

    It is great coincidence that Vinay kumar got injured and Irfan got a replacemnt position n the team..actully seeing his last performances in the last matches and IPL, he is the player to be selected ahead of Vinaykumar...he shown his talent in the series and if he is not there result might not be 4-1...selectors and dhoni should faith on him and his confidence level to be raised...he is the best all rounder at present india having and ability to change the game.It is meaning less to compare him with Jadeja..Congrats Irfan and wish you good luck....

  • Dummy4 on August 9, 2012, 19:59 GMT

    some of the comments are really surprising to read, he is a batting all rounder really??How many indian bolwers have taken 5 wiket hauls in the lst few years? The way he removed the top3 in the t20, he captured Dilshan so frequently in the series and remember dilshan has been real key man for Sl against Ind in last 3 years. And Speed alone is of no use, Dinda and Yadav despite their speeds got hammered anyway, I dont say Pathan is a great bowler but with the kind of resources available he certainly should make it to the playing 11.Don't why people are so obsessed with having talent rather then people performing, he may not look sharp but his performance deserves a place for him.

  • jayesh on August 9, 2012, 18:04 GMT

    Irfan Pathan was such a celebrated all rounder, that people started comparing him with Kapil Dev. I think this comparison puts a lot of pressure on him. But the thing is that he lost his SWING somewhere, may be because he tried to bowl faster. For pace he lost his main weapon,the art of SWING. Anyway he brought back his swing now. He may be bowling at mid or late 120's ,but he is keeping tight line and length. He should be included in the Test squad vs New Zealand, also in the T20 World cup squad.

  • Dummy4 on August 9, 2012, 15:50 GMT

    Several critics are commenting on Irfan's pace. What do they mean by pace? Is it running fast and throwing the ball at a speed of 140 KM or more, without bothering on line and length or accuracy or right placess?

    Irfan is a genuine fighter and committed team player. He might have bad games but bis commitment can not be questioned. He is definitely better than Umesh, Dinda or any other player on any given day.

  • yogi on August 9, 2012, 11:04 GMT

    all said and done,mid 120's is not going to threaten the batters.Conditions not helping swing bowling, boy you are a goner. Develop some muscles, bowl should at least be around the high 130's (138 - 139 thereabouts).We are on the lookout for a bowling allrounder not a batting allrounder.

  • Aditya on August 9, 2012, 8:49 GMT

    Irfan Pathan and Manoj Tiwary came up trumps in this series. Likewise, if we show more persistence with the likes of Rahane, Dinda, Yadav, and Rahul Sharma, similar results shall follow. Kohli, Dhoni, and Raina yet again treated SL like a depleted domestic side in Ranjis (with utter and complete disdain)! pooROHIT beSHARMA ?! well, with his current form (or the loss of it), he would not even make it in the Afghanistan team (who are really good by the way), but I am sure the Indian cricketing pundits think otherwise!!

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