Over to Irfan Pathan tackling spins, googlies and fast ones from Rachana Dubey...
Where were you on Sunday?
I was chilling at my farmhouse in Gujarat with friends and family after a dramatic match between Baroda and Andhra Pradesh. I play for Baroda and we won.
Why aren’t you with the team for the Test series against England?
I’m not with the Test side usually. Sreesanth and Zaheer Khan have led the bowling attack pretty well. I’m really happy to watch my team on the field. I played the one-day match at Cuttack against England. I took about six wickets. I was happy. I’ll be back with a bang next season, inshallah. The Pakistan series has been cancelled. That’s unfortunate but we have to stand by the decisions taken by the government and the BCCI. The terror attacks on Mumbai have left scars on everyone’s hearts and minds.
At this rate, don’t you think Asian cricket will lose a precious team?
I don’t expect a problem in the long run. It will be smooth.. sooner or later, issues will be resolved. India and Pakistan might get back to playing with each other.
Despite calling off a series, we will be sharing the World Cup venues in 2011 with Pakistan. How would you justify that, then?
The World Cup is two years away. The situation will surely have come under control by then. (Pauses) See, cricket is a sport.. it’s not about diplomatic and political decisions. But we have to respect decisions taken in interest of the larger picture.
Sourav Ganguly and Anil Kumble have retired. Who do you think can replace them?
No player can be replaced. No one could replace Sunil Gavaskar. Sachin Tendulkar emerged as one of the biggest names in Indian cricket and we as a team are proud of that. That doesn’t mean he replaced Gavaskar. Tomorrow when he retires, another name will emerge but he will always be our Sachin Tendulkar. Sourav and Kumble were excellent captains and teammates. We will miss their expertise and inputs but cricket has to go on.
Could you comment on the recent controversy in which Mahendra Singh Dhoni wanted RP Singh in the team but the selectors chose you which led to a showdown?
I’ll reserve my comments on that. Let bygones be yaar!
Hasn’t recession hit the sport?
Thankfully, as far as I can see, it hasn’t touched the game. In fact, when we were playing one-dayers against England less than a month ago, the stadiums were packed. The game is watched, no matter what. But on the other hand, I’m sure the meltdown has affected the companies which produce our gear.
Going by the current line-up, do you think the Indian team lacks a certain something?
We’re going really strong and aggressive right now. Our bowling has improved tremendously, batting is under control. We’re still improvising on the fielding though.. specially for the Test team. We could do with some more spinners on the benches as back-ups. Otherwise, everyone is in good form right now.
Lately, performance-wise pay grades were announced. Rahul Dravid despite being in bad form has made it to A-grade and you have been pushed into B.
(Smiles) I can’t comment on this. There was a phase when you had become somewhat predictable in your style of bowling. I had to be internally strong. My family, brother Yusuf and friends were my strengths. But when the going gets tough.. the tough get going.. right? I went back to my basics and worked on my swing. My team backed me. It was a phase.
The team is often criticised for being all over advertisements.
Why? If you play well, you’ll have sponsors for the sport. Companies will want popular sports figures as their brand ambassadors. In any case, we never miss our practice sessions to shoot for ad commercials. Our game is top priority.
Okay but cricket is often hated by other sportspersons because they feel sidelined.
See, cricket has won maximum recognition for the country. We’ve registered more wins than any other sport. So, obviously we will be the most-followed sport. A game is followed only if its players are popular. At times, even cricket following shows a dip. When we exited from the World Cup in the West Indies in 2007, we were hated. Most people stopped watching matches. Once we regained our form, the followers are back. The game has always been very glamorous.
A provision introduced in the game helps bowlers appeal for LBW decisions from third umpires.
(Cuts in) I think we’ll have to use this provision with a lot of balance. LBW happens in the fraction of a second.
If the decision from the field umpire is accurate, I register a wicket in my name. And if the umpire misses out, I miss out.
What are your plans for IPL next year?
I have a three-year contract with the Mohali team. Frankly, IPL’s following is unmatched. The viewership even beat the most-watched saas bahu shows. I’m just waiting for IPL to start.
What do you think about India’s new coach Gary Kirsten?
He’s an experienced cricketer. His inputs have visibly helped the team. The bowling, batting and fielding have improved with his coaching.
Why can’t former Indian players be coaches?
This question should be directed to the BCCI.
With so many matches, hasn’t cricket become too hectic?
Who’s complaining? More the merrier.
Who are your closest friends in the team?
We are closely knit..I’m particularly close to Robin Uthappa.
Would you say it took far too long for your brother, Yusuf, to make it to the international squad.
Der aaye durust aaye. Last year’s IPL worked wonders for him.
Any sibling rivalry out there?
As kids, we’d be fighting all the time. (Laughs) ‘Dekhlunga’ attitude was always there. We would try to outdo each other. He would try to bat like me, I would try to bowl like him. We’ve outgrown our childhood. Contrary to popular opinion, we don’t compete with each other. It doesn’t matter if only one of us is in the team.
After participating in Ek Khiladi Ek Hasina, have you become confident of your dancing skills?
Not really. I got compliments for my looks. I enjoyed dancing on the last two songs. But Pappu still can’t dance yaar!(smiles)
Apparently, you were offered a role in the Harman Baweja movie Victory
Yeah, but I love watching movies more than being a part of them. I watched High School Musical 3 recently. But thanks, I don’t want to be a part of a movie.
Apparently, you were dating an NRI’s daughter from Australia.
Hey, my private life has to remain private.. it’s not for public discussion.