When Irfan Pathan burst onto the international scene in 2003-04, it seemed as if India had unearthed a terrific new-ball bowler. Expectations kept rising and, as Irfan started improving as a batsman especially when Greg Chappell was the national coach, people started thinking that the long search for a genuine all-rounder was over.
The Baroda player was an exceptional talent. Never express, he worked up a decent pace and was blessed with a natural ability to swing the ball back into the right-handers from a full length, which won him numerous leg-before verdicts. Among the established batsmen, Mohammad Yusuf had succumbed to this special delivery several times on India’s tour of Pakistan in 2003-04.
A handy batsman lower down the order, Irfan improved his batting remarkably under Chappell’s guidance and played knocks of substance in both forms of the game higher up the order. He didn’t look like a bowler who could bat, but played as an accomplished batsman, showing discretion in playing and leaving the ball.
But things happened too fast. Inundated by money and fame at a young age, this youngster from a humble background kept losing the zip in his principle area — bowling. His pace dipped and the dreaded in-swinger lost bite. All of a sudden, he became an ordinary bowler.
Injuries too played a part in his disappearance from the national team, but, of late, Irfan has shown signs of getting back to where he was. As captain of Baroda, he topped his team’s batting and bowling charts in this season’s Ranji Trophy and sounded happy about his performance in last week’s Duleep Trophy semi-final against North.
“I took three wickets on a pitch where our team scored around 750 runs. So, you can guess that I wasn’t all that bad. I got a leg-before decision too, which means I got the ball to swing into the right-hander. I feel I bowled better than I had in Ranji Trophy,” Irfan told HT.
Optimistic he sure is. India would like to think there is substance in his self-evaluation too, because the slot for a genuine all-rounder in the national team is still vacant.