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The fall and fall of Irfan Pathan!
by Partab Ramchand
May 07, 2007
Not too long ago he was the glamour boy of Indian cricket. Spearhead of the pace attack, he improved his batting to be recognized as the first Indian all rounder for a decade. He was handsome and charismatic, was a popular figure in several ads and the cricketing world was at his feet certified by the ICC Emerging Player of the Year award in 2004.

Today Irfan Pathan is a forgotten man. Out of the Test team and out of the ODI squad his fortunes have nosedived. From glamour boy to also ran to Mr Nobody. From the leader of the attack to a fifth bowler option to out of the squad. He is still only 22 but Pathan has seen it all. The highs and lows, the triumphs and disasters, the heady accolades and the barbed criticism. The point is should he have been reduced to this level.

Let’ us consider Pathan’s case. After an impressive debut in Australia in 2003-2004 when he was promoted at the age of 19 from the India A ranks to the spearhead of the attack Pathan made swift progress chiefly as an incisive bowler who had both pace and swing. Over the next couple of years he supplanted Ajit Agarkar, Zaheer Khan, Lakshmipathy Balaji and Ashish Nehra as the country’s big new ball hope. He took wickets regularly by providing the early breakthroughs or slicing through the tail in the manner of all good pace bowlers. It could also be seen that his batting could be a bonus for he struck the ball hard and high with confidence and youthful exuberance. Was he just a bits and pieces player or could he develop into a genuine all rounder the kind the country had been yearning for since Manoj Prabhakar was discarded after the 1996 World Cup? That was the question being debated.

When Greg Chappell took over as Indian coach in 2005 he also saw in Pathan a cricketer who could be encouraged to blossom out as an all rounder. It was Chappell who took the initiative in promoting him as a pinch hitter in the one-day game and by playing him up the order in Test cricket – even as an opening batsman. And in keeping with his reputation of rising to the occasion and relishing a challenge Pathan came good with a number of valuable knocks in both versions of the game. During the 2005-06 season both in ODI’s and Tests it was obvious that he made quite remarkable progress with the bat without losing any of his destructive qualities with the ball. The crowning glory with the latter was of course his historic first over hat trick against Pakistan in January last year but it must not be forgotten that he took 21 wickets in two Tests against Zimbabwe a few months earlier. In fact it was during this series that he first showed signs of emerging as an all rounder and he maintained the progress in Test matches against Sri Lanka, Pakistan and England.

So finally the decade long search ended and the country hailed Pathan the all rounder – a title deservedly won as confirmed by figures. In mid-2006 the road ahead looked rosy for Pathan. However things started turning black for him during the tour of the West Indies. He played in four ODI’s doing reasonably well before being rested for the final game to give the bench strength a chance. But when it came to the Test series he was played in only one of the four matches ostensibly because the tour management opted for a four-bowler policy. But even under these circumstances Pathan should have been one of the first choices in the playing eleven. A senior and performing cricketer should have been given his due. After all he was the country’s only genuine all rounder and had a record that underlined his skill and growing stature. He should have been assured of a place almost as much as the other regulars in the side. It was hard for the Indian cricket fan to come to terms with the way he was treated in the West Indies.

Chappell made a rather untenable defence of not playing Pathan. According to him Pathan was tired after the ODI’s and ``we thought he needed a break. The break has done him no harm and he would learn from the experience. He needed rest and we felt it was in his best interest." On the contrary the break did him and his confidence considerable damage and the forced rest was not in his best interests or in the interests of the team.

It remained to be seen whether Pathan would recover from the shabby treatment. In fact this was the beginning of the end for this prodigiously gifted cricketer. He was never the same player and thereafter he struggled to make it to both the Test and ODI teams. Worse was to follow when he was sent back midway through the tour of South Africa so that he could concentrate on domestic cricket. A determined Pathan put in impressive stints and forced his way back to the squad for the World Cup. He however did not figure in a single game during the disappointing campaign and now finds himself out in the cold.

The Indian team would have been better served with Pathan batting lower down and emerging as a bowling all rounder. The promotion up the order should have used only as a surprise tactic. Chappell’s needless over experimentation with him led to Pathan losing much of his strike force with the ball. There is little doubt that the team needs Pathan the bowler much more than Pathan the batsman and that is what he will have to keep in mind when he plans a comeback.

More Views by Partab Ramchand
  India vs Australia - Batting and bowling worries for the hosts
  Future of Indian cricket is in good hands
  Future bright for Irfan Pathan
  Basil D'Oliveira was a mighty fine utility player
  Ashwin is a stayer, not a sprinter!
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