The cultural capital of this commerce-driven state couldn’t have been faulted for hoping that at least one of its two favourite sons would be in the thick of things when India begin the seven-match ODI series against Australia on Sunday.
Despite not missing any of the three ODIs played here since his debut in 2004, Irfan Pathan at the moment can’t look beyond Ranji Trophy. And discarded after the Champions Trophy, elder brother Yusuf is representing Baroda in the West Zone leg of the T20 zonal meet in Pune. So though the Reliance Stadium might be full when the umpires call play, this emptiness may not go unnoticed.
Equally difficult to overlook is the legacy the brothers have already built. If the Gaekwads ruled cricket and almost everything else here before Independence and till well after that, these players from far humbler roots have completed the circle by capturing the imagination of aspiring cricketers.
Kids in whites at a local ground on a hot Thursday afternoon said it’s the Pathans they look up to. “So what they aren’t playing on Sunday, they have shown us that we can,” quipped Shoaib, a 13-year-old.
This is not without reason and a trip to their former residence — all of two tiny rooms inside the Jama Masjid where their father Mahmood Khan Pathan was a muezzin -confirms this. From that sparse, sacred place they have shifted to a bungalow in the posh Tandlja area with a mansion over 14,000 square feet nearing completion in the same locality.
From the days of going to practice on a bicycle, they now own a Toyota Fortune and Honda Accord. Irfan also owns a farmhouse in the outskirts where he has two horses. “Never occurred to me that those were days of struggle; those days were fun,” Irfan tells friends.
Will the crowds miss the Pathan brothers when M.S. Dhoni’s men take on Australia on Sunday? Difficult to say. What’s unmistakable is that they are so deeply ingrained in the psyche of the local youth, missing them in one match wouldn’t mean much.