THAT IRFAN Pathan would sound a tad miffed at the question was well understandable. It had been a good day with the ball for the left-armer. He had finished with outstanding figures by T20 standards — 3/10 to guide West Zone to a convincing win. And they were big-name victims too in Shikhar Dhawan, Rishabh Pant and Yuvraj Singh. But here he was being asked about the reputation of being an “IPL to IPL” player. At first, he seemed to struggle with his words, even stammering a little. But the 32-year-old soon shot back with a riposte in which he made no effort to hide his annoyance. “It’s definitely unfair. If you look at the recent past, it’s happened only once four years ago, when I genuinely missed out on a domestic season due to injuries. (Now) I have played everything and have bowled a lot of overs as well. If they club me along with IPL to IPL players, it’s unfortunate and they should be careful,” he said.
It’s not like Irfan isn’t aware of it or that the ‘tag’ comes to him as a shock. For over the last few years even if only in whispers and murmurs around the cricket fraternity, it’s something you hear quite often about the erstwhile superstar of Indian cricket when we near IPL time. But he might have a point in dismissing those claims, at least this season anyway. In the 2012-13 domestic season, he was plagued by injuries and managed to play just one Ranji Trophy and four Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy games for Baroda.
The numbers have improved since. In the 2015-16 season, he played eight Ranji games, four in the Vijay Hazare Trophy and 10 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy matches. This season, he’s contributed in six Ranji Trophy and four Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy matches. Then you wonder why the tag still haunts him. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that he doesn’t get much mileage playing for low-profile Baroda in the domestic circuit. Baroda haven’t really set the world alight over the last couple of seasons meaning they’ve not even appeared in too many televised matches. But it’s not Irfan’s been setting the stage alight either through his individual performances.
His only telling performance in the last 10 matches before today came in a West Zone Inter-State T20 match against Saurashtra, where his two wickets were followed by an unbeaten match-winning knock of 65. But it remains a lonely blip.
That too at a time when the Indian team selectors have been keen on providing second chances to yesteryear heroes to make a comeback to the Indian team. Not to forget that Irfan, who was man-of-the-match in the final of the 2007 World T20, belongs to that one rare category, which the selectors have so desperately been in search for.
And somehow it was ironic that he should get Yuvraj, who has been among the biggest beneficiaries of the present selection panel’s views on senior players.
In only his second over, Irfan delivered a good-length delivery that swung late in vintage fashion from outside off stump to have Dhawan edging to first slip. In his next over, a short-pitched delivery cramped Rishabh Pant for space, and the teenager’s attempted slog towards midwicket found the toe end of the bat, giving Deepak Hooda a straight-forward catch at covers.
The next ball was almost identical — perhaps with a touch more pace. It caught Yuvraj off-guard. He only managed to edge his pull-shot to covers, where Hooda again took a simple catch. In just two overs, Pathan had taken care of three of the four major North Zone batsman.
Brief scores: North Zone 107/8 (Gautam Gambhir 60; Irfan Pathan 3/10) lost to West Zone 108/3 (Parthiv Patel 56, Shreyas Iyer 30); Central Zone 151/7 (Naman Ojha 51, Harpreet Bhatia 48; Ashoke Dinda 2/24) lost to East Zone (Ishan Kishan 67, Ishank Jaggi 51; Mahipal Lomror 2/31).