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Redemption song

Just two months ago, they said he was finished. Now, they say he is just beginning again. Kadambari Murali interviews Irfan Pathan.

cricket Updated: Sep 27, 2007 02:53 IST
Kadambari Murali

One minute, he is laughing, enjoying every moment. The next, he sounds bone-weary, as he cajoles, consoles his mother, who hasn’t stopped crying since he landed in Vadodara.

It is a little after 9pm Wednesday. “I have barely had time to breathe,” says Irfan Pathan, fatigue dripping from every syllable. “I just walked into the house a few minutes ago and am wondering whether I will fall asleep on my feet.”

You commiserate, apologise for the intrusion and he laughs. “It’s okay, this is special. I will get some food, sleep tonight and be fine.”

But Irfan, who kept awake on that starry Johannesburg night after India won the Cup, in order to eat a meal just before dawn in this month of Ramzan, will barely rest. On the morrow, he leaves for Bangalore, to join the rest of his Indian teammates for the first of the seven-match one-day series against Australia.

Suddenly, there is an upsurge in the background noise, the crowds outside the Pathan family home are chanting the brothers’ names, Yusuf and Irfan. “Can you hear them?” asks Irfan excitedly, the tiredness suddenly muted. You laugh and say yes, and ask how it feels. “Very special,” he replies. “It seems like a dream”.

<b1>It probably does feel surreal, for the past few months have been somewhat of a nightmare for the Baroda paceman, who has moved from being the pride of India to a virtual pariah.

In this period, by his own admission, he has changed, learning to cope, learning to hope and learning to grow. He has fenced with the shadows and learnt to live with them and now says he will take all his time under the sun one day at a time. “Just make every moment count.”

Read on for a quick glimpse of what South Africa was all about with the player who was the man of the final.

Silly question, but what is this all like?

It feels amazing. In Chennai, when we spoke (at the MRF Pace Academy in July), I was working very hard and feeling very good about myself again, doing whatever I could do within my limitations. Things were beginning to fall into place. But it was all so unsure. So from that uncertainty, being man of the match in the final was pretty amazing for me. I can’t believe we won… (he laughs) no actually, I can believe it, I’m here, but it’s all so dream-like.

What was playing in this young tam under Dhoni like?

It was an amazingly happy experience. He is energetic, positive, always there for you. We relaxed under him, with him, told ourselves that finally, this was just a game. We continually promised ourselves that we would give 100 per cent every time, there was no substitute for that, yet, we refused to let the pressure of situation get to us. We enjoyed ourselves, each other and at the end of the day, that showed.

Is it tougher playing Pakistan and being a Muslim, and one from Gujarat? I’m asking this against the backdrop of Shoaib Malik’s remarks, however inadvertent…

See, I didn’t hear Malik’s remarks. Having said that, I want to say there’s never anything like that. When I play, we play, we play for India, play for the team, as a team. There is no question of even thinking about religion or anything else. I don’t feel anything except being an Indian. Every opponent is the same and if the pressure is more while playing Pakistan, it is more for everyone in the team, whoever plays.

Well said. This is obviously special, you and Yusuf both playing?

Incredible, I can’t describe it. We’ve grown up playing cricket together, so we don’t really think about it otherwise, I do my job, he does his. It’s only later, after the game, that we thought about it and smiled. Yet, this means so much to my family, my mother keeps crying, my sister, she adores my brother… we’re all feeling it.

Finally, did you expect the reception you got?

Well, we knew it would be big but didn’t think it would be this big. The people on the streets, not an empty seat, no place to stand... It’s been emotional, overwhelming and just so very, very special.

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