From a mosque to a mansion, from playing at a dusty ground in Baroda to emerging as the man-of-the-match in the final of India’s triumphant World Twenty20 campaign. That’s Irfan Pathan for you.
But the rags-to-riches story was followed by a fall from grace once he lost his main weapon — the in-swinging delivery to right-handers. Thanks to the T20 explosion, his coffers filled up, but there was a sense of emptiness since he was not wearing the India jersey.
And if Pathan’s exclusion from the team, due to lack of form, wasn’t bad enough, a severe back injury, which started to bother him almost two years ago, made matters worse. While elder brother, Yusuf, was making headlines with his ferocious batting, Irfan was spending hours with physios and in the gym to strengthen the lower back.
At that point, many felt that after performing at the highest level, the left-arm seamer would not be able to start from scratch and go through the grind of domestic cricket. Most of those who lose their place in the national squad after a relatively long stint find it tough to motivate themselves.
But Irfan proved them wrong. After sorting out his back, he competed in all those tournaments that led up to the Ranji Trophy. By the time Ranji started, Irfan felt he was nearing his peak. And it reflected in his three fifers in as many outings for Baroda. A recall to the India side for the last two ODIs against the West Indies was indeed a just reward for his efforts.
What was it that motivated the left-hander, who at 27 has spent more than a decade in first-class cricket? “When you have a clear goal in mind, the motivational side is automatically taken care of,” Pathan told HT just before he was included in the squad for the last two ODIs.
“When I knew that all other things were incomparable to walking out to represent India, the grind that you referred to are small steps towards achieving that goal.”
It was this strong urge that led Pathan to spend hours training, first with renowned bowling coach TA Sekar and then with Baroda coach Sanath Kumar. “Sekar sir helped me use the full body without stressing it too much while bowling the delivery. And he also helped me get my wrist position back on track,” said Irfan.
“And Sanath sir’s ability to analyse the game has helped me keep on track during the season.”
So it didn’t come as a surprise when one saw Irfan, along with Suresh Raina, at practice for a good couple of hours at the Devi Ahilya Holkar Cricket Stadium, the venue of the fourth ODI. This was hours after joining the national team after a two-and-a-half year gap.
The realisation that his resurgence has barely begun showed. “The goal is not just to play for the country but to succeed at the highest level in order to achieve laurels for the country,” he said.
Time will tell whether the fall from grace will turn into a tale of remarkable return.