Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent
Pakistan fast bowler Mohammad Irfan, who recently finished serving a six-month ban, has said that the period "felt like six years". Speaking to ESPNcricinfo, the 35-year-old said he didn't "lose anyone's respect" because he was banned for not reporting bookies' approaches; there were no fixing allegations against him. He also said he sees himself as a good prospect in T20 cricket and is eyeing the PSL and first-class Quaid-e-Azam Trophy to get back in contention for Pakistan.
Irfan was barred from playing all forms of cricket for a year - with six months suspended - after he pleaded guilty to failing to report two corrupt approaches made to him. He was also fined PKR 1 million. During the suspension period - which started on March 14 - he took up gym work and fitness training privately. His contract with domestic team WAPDA has resumed after his ban period ended, and he will feature in the upcoming Quaid-e-Azam Trophy starting from September 26.
"The last six months have been very tough on me. In fact, it felt like six years, during which I incurred great losses," Irfan said. "Indeed, it was my mistake, and I admitted it instantly, but there was no fixing allegations against me. But, in all this, I am thankful the situation wasn't any worse.
"I was actually working in my private gym at home to keep myself fit. But I had been training privately, so I hope things will go well. These six months, I think I can view it as a rest period which will help me rejuvenate."
Irfan came under the scanner during the second edition of the PSL in Dubai when a fixing scandal broke that eventually had Khalid Latif and Sharjeel Khan banned for five years. Irfan was found guilty of failing to report two approaches over a six-month period, to which he had admitted. Besides him, Mohammad Nawaz was the other player banned for two months for a similar indiscretion.
"I regret that I didn't report it and I have realised how serious it is if you don't report a corrupt approach. But I am still very much accepted and people still like me. I don't want to go into details about whether the punishment was harsh. There were reasons I didn't report instantly but I did reject them [the bookies] straightaway.
"After my mother and father's death, I was lost and wasn't able to decide what to do, hence the delay. Then, I went to the PSL, where the PCB came up with some information and since it was correct [to report], I did so, and I am happy that I am back after a minor ban and still have a chance to revive myself."
Being the tallest fast bowler in top-flight cricket and prone to breaking down, Irfan had been struggling with his fitness since he made his debut in 2010. He went on to play four Tests, 60 ODIs and 20 T20Is, but had been overly inconsistent with his fitness and hasn't played for Pakistan since an ODI last year in September.
Since Mickey Arthur's arrival as coach, Pakistan has made improving their fitness standards a central priority, with high-profile players like Umar Akmal axed for failing fitness tests. "In the last six months, I have been resting with no workload, and that has really helped me," Irfan said. "I got time to take a break from cricket; otherwise, the early part of my career, I was playing a lot. Due to my height and body structure, I get tired early, and need more time for recovery. In Pakistan, there was no one to manage me, but as soon as an English trainer [Grant Luden] came, I did exactly what he told me to do which really helped me."
Over the last few months, a lot of young fast bowlers have come in, pushing Irfan further down the pecking order. Appreciating the enhanced competition, Irfan said he still had a chance, but wanted to focus on limited-overs cricket, especially T20s, to remain in contention. "For now I am not really worried about the competition because I am unique because of my height. But over the last few months, I have seen there are a lot of young bowlers who have come in, which is actually a good sign for the country. And playing with competition around makes it more fun."
WAPDA's captain Salman Butt believed that the player hasn't lost much in the last six months but, being an extraordinarily tall bower, needed to be handled sensibly. "He has done well in the nets and in practice matches ahead of the tournament," Butt said. "This is the first time I have seen him over the last six months and I believed he bowled well. He looks determined and we will try to use him in a way not to risk injury. We will manage his workload and use him in important games. He did well last year and I hope he responds well this year too.
"Obviously he is not somebody who can bowl longer spells, but somebody who with short bursts can turn a game and we will try to take advantage of that. If he is used sensibly and kept fit, he is definitely a very good prospect for any form of the game."