By Mikhail Vaswani - Presenter, Neo Sports
At 25, when most cricketers reach the peak of their game, is one all-rounder already past his prime? The curious case of Irfan Pathan has begun to baffle many.
Six years of international cricket and Irfan, at 25, is sadly a veteran of Indian cricket. From being a long-and-curly-haired, buoyant lad to an unsung campaigner with a receding hairline, the progression hasn’t been smooth, what with the consistent turbulence in his inconsistent career.
Irfan’s performance over the years has made for an interesting case study. If in 2003, India gave birth to a genuine swing bowler, then his hat trick against Pakistan in 2006 meant the said bowler could now exploit the red cherry.
But at around the same time the world also witnessed the emergence of Irfan Pathan the batsman who, in his very first outing at no.3, scored a brilliant 83 against the Sri Lankans in 2006.
However, then came a turn-around of events and many still remain bewildered by the way in which his bowling fortunes plummeted even as his batting sky rocketed. The bowling lost not just its swing but also pace and subsequently Pathan soon lost his place in the side.
So in December 2006, at 22, when Irfan was sent back from South Africa, the all-rounder's worst fears came true. However, the lean phase at the end of 2006 saw him back in the domestic grind, only to witness a comeback with renewed vigour.
The 2007 T20 World cup is testimony to the fact that, behind Irfan’s raging hormones, there is a sensible head. He may have bowled more off-cutters in that tournament, but 10 wickets in the event with a man of the match 3 for 16 in the final were enough to announce an emphatic comeback.
The comeback only got better and he was drafted into the Tests; Pathan celebrated his return to the Test team after 19 months by making his first Test century. But what added more credibility to Pathan’s batting was his match winning effort of 28 and 46 in the historic Perth Test, not discounting his 5 wickets as well which helped him win the Man of the match award.
So is Irfan more effective with the bat or more lethal with the ball? The flip-flop in performances with either is evident over the years and this is probably what the team management is unsure about.
In a six-year span, Pathan has played just 29 Tests & 107 ODIs. Over 100 wickets in both forms are equally supported by crucial contributions with the bat. So where is the problem in India’s only genuine all-rounder? Is he not contributing enough with the bat? Or is the team expecting too much out of his bowling? Why is the axe always hanging on his head? And is this all-rounder an asset or a liability?
A thousand probabilities do not make one truth. So even as Pathan battles form and injuries, there is another intriguing issue of an identity crisis in this all-rounder's career. How would one assign a profile to Irfan - a bowling all-rounder or a batting all-rounder? Even though Pathan insists he is a bowling all-rounder, he would also admit that it is his batting in the recent past that has helped him earn that crucial no.6/no.7 spot.
In youth you learn and in age you understand but not in the case of Irfan who still seems to be learning the ways of survival. The rigor of international cricket clearly shows and the maturity is evident even as Pathan remains clueless about his role in the side after six years of international cricket.
On his day, Irfan Pathan is lethal beyond comprehension, but there are certain undeniable facts which throw only one question - Is Irfan Pathan an overrated player or is he an underrated player? A question which only stimulates debate. Despite riding on a number of match winning performances, Pathan once again embraces domestic cricket in his bid for survival in this competitive era of Indian cricket.
Sadly, Six years on, Irfan still fights for a place in the side!