Ever since hes returned to the Indian team in his latest comeback in December last year,Irfan Pathan has often managed to be at the centre of mini-cricketing debates. Whether it has had to do with his batting position,the disparity in his swing-bowling ability or the inconsistency in his selection,hes constantly been under the scanner.
On Saturday,the spotlight was once again on the 27-year-old Baroda all-rounder at the R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo. This time though for the right reasons,as he took India home to a famous victory in the third ODI with a sensible unbeaten knock of 34 off 31 in the company of Suresh Raina,who was unconquered on 65.
And after his impressive exploits the previous night,its been a quiet Sunday in contrast for Pathan. The Discovery Channel has been running on the hotel room television for a while now. A small carpet that he uses for his daily prayers hangs from his bedside chair. Its a roza religious fast-day for Indias No.7 and his schedule for the day only involves a brief football cum fitness session with the team. Pathan is basking in his match-winning performance that handed Team India the crucial series lead. The last 10 days in Sri Lanka have overall been more than satisfactory in fact for the seasoned campaigner.
And having rediscovered his swing in the Emerald Isle,Pathan now aims to attain perfection. Its less than 12 months ago that Pathan,then out of contention from the national team and desperately seeking a return,would go around showing anyone who cared,videos of his bowling exploits from IPL-4,insisting that his swing was coming back. Most quipped about this desperation. Few gave him a chance of ever returning to national colours.
There was little that Pathan could do but to keep his head down and remain focused on his ultimate goal. He never let his shoulders slouch and remained confident that his time would arrive. Rarely did he pay much heed to his detractors,even boldly predicting late last year that he would be part of the Indian ODI side in Australia. All he spoke about in this interim period was about processes and sticking to them. While not everyone seemed aware of what he meant,Pathan was clear in his head.
But his fortitude was dented further after he suffered a mysterious back injury for which he was sent to Australia at the advice of Paul Close,the physio at the National Cricket Academy. Pathan had to miss the entire 2010 domestic season as a result. And he still grimaces while recalling the unbearable pain that he had to endure and how it changed his perception of life itself.
When in pain,you realise what a healthy body means to you. Ups and down are part of every cricket career and the only way to deal with them is by focusing on your performance. A normal cricketer cant play for more than 10 to 15 years maximum. I was more concerned about the well-being of my body in the future rather than my comeback to the Indian team, he says.
Endless hours of bowling in the nets and a rigorous training schedule followed his recovery,while Pathan played a number of local games in Baroda to regain his confidence and to work on reviving his swing. A fully-fit Pathan then returned to action for his state team and his 23 wickets in three Ranji Trophy matches for Baroda cleared the road for his comeback. Pathan,just like he had predicted,boarded the flight to Australia and was also part of Indias squad during the Asia Cup before being called up as a late replacement in Sri Lanka.
And what he has dished out so far with the ball here has been impressive as well as encouraging. He has hit a good length outside the off-stump consistently and has managed to shape in deliveries more often than not. Pathan was the best bowler for India in the high-scoring opening ODI in Hambantota where he finished with figures of 2 for 37 in his 10 overs. Indias severe batting failure in the second ODI didnt give him much of a chance to shine with the ball.
In Colombo,he created pressure with the new ball and got an early breakthrough by getting Dinesh Chandimal trapped in front with an in-coming delivery. That is before his unbeaten 34 that was part of a 91-run partnership in 12 overs with Raina sealed the deal for India and justified his batting spot at No.7.
But he insists on still keeping his feet on the ground. For Irfan,this is but just the first step towards a full-fledged second coming.