ICL: Indian Cricket League

Irfan, the falling star, told to go home, work on lost shine


Just over seven months ago, Indian cricket’s bright, young star Irfan Pathan was glowing near the poolside of a Delhi hotel, looking ahead to the West Indies tour. This Christmas morning, one day before the crucial second Test against South Africa, he was at a breakfast table in a Durban hotel, struggling to smile, sitting opposite the new star Sreesanth.

Pathan had already had a chat with chairman of selectors Dilip Vengsarkar, he knew it was time. And a couple of hours later, skipper Rahul Dravid made it official: Pathan is going home, to regain his form, his confidence, probably the first such instance in recent times of a player being sent back midway through a tour for these reasons.

Having lost his rhythm, pace and control over the year, the team thinktank decided to book his ticket back to the domestic grind yesterday, after a meeting of minds, including those of Vengsarkar, coach Greg Chappell and Dravid.

Nine short of 100 wickets in just 25 Tests, 114 one-day wickets in 72 games, the next stop for Pathan after he boards the Mumbai flight most probably on Wednesday: the Ranji Trophy match for Baroda against Uttar Pradesh starting on January 2. And again, the next match against Tamil Nadu on January 10. “Irfan Pathan is a really important member for us leading into the World Cup and he’s not getting as much cricket as we hoped in this series. We have discussed it with Irfan, with the coaching staff and we feel it’s in his best interest that he goes back and plays Ranji Trophy games before the start of the one-day series in India. We don’t see Irfan playing a part for us in this series but he is a very important part of the team in the near and long-term future,” said Dravid.

But yes, it is a shattering fall for the 22-year-old left-handed swing and seam bowler, who just last year was the toast of world cricket with his prodigious ‘last-minute’ away balls that had the best of the best groping without a clue. Remember that magic yorker of early 2005 from a raw 20-year-old that cleaned up Australian danger man Adam Gilchrist, remember the roar after that dream hat-trick against Pakistan this year?

It was a tailspin that probably began around that Lahore battathon in January (32-4-133-1), gathered momentum during the West Indies tour (he played only in one Test) and finally ended with crash at that little English club on the outskirts of Durban last weekend, where local batsmen tore into him, plundering 74 runs in 11 overs.

Dravid hopes the bubbly ‘all-rounder’, now more of a batsman than a bowler, will regain his form and confidence in the domestic circuit before West Indies and Sri Lanka reach India to play four ‘preparatory’ matches each before the big event.

“He can take confidence from the fact that he’s young, and he’s not the only one in international cricket who’s had to go through something like this. A lot of people have had to go through it. A bowler like Stephen Harmison (England) had to go through something like this during the Ashes series, struggling really badly. So this can happen, especially when you’re young,” said Dravid. According to Vengsarkar, “He was not performing well on this tour so far, and he is not in the best of form at the moment. That’s why we thought he should go back and play domestic cricket. Sitting here is not going to help him. If he bowls more and more, he may get his form back,” said Vengsarkar. But Vengsarkar also made it clear that Pathan will now be considered only on the basis of form and the number of wickets he takes. Well, that’s a big if, one that will spawn a hundred questions.

What will be going through Pathan’s mind now, will he be able to manage the ego blow? Will the “pep talk” that has been given to him, the training instructions, last over the months? What if Pathan sinks in the domestic grind, what if he is not able to regain his place in the Indian team? Has India lost one of their brightest bowling talents?

More questions. Is it an admission of failure then, for the Indian team thinktank that they have been unable to find out what went wrong with Pathan? Coach Greg Chappell and the skipper have maintained that it’s a confidence thing. They have even passed him through the eagle eyes of West Indian legend Andy Roberts, Australian great Jeff Thompson; they have had him sit with renowned sports psychologist Rudi Webster.

Roberts said it had to do with his run-up, South African team’s assistant coach Vincent Barnes claims it’s to do with the wrist, Pakistani veteran Wasim Akram says it’s the arm. And there are some in the team who say it’s also got to do with some of the distractions that come with fame.

Now, all that’s left to be tried out is a travelling bowling coach - Vengsarkar’s suggestion may now need to be taken very, very seriously. Surely, the last thing India want now is another bowler down the drain.

Source:Cricket News

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