Two years ago when he was named the International Cricket Council’s first-ever ‘Emerging Player of the Year’, Irfan Pathan was hailed as world cricket’s most exciting prospect. On Christmas Day, he became the first Indian player in memory to be sent back midway through a tour to play domestic cricket because he was not playing well enough to keep his place in the national side.
“We have made a decision,” skipper Rahul Dravid told a stunned news conference. “Irfan is a really important player for us leading into the World Cup, and for the future. He is not getting to play as much cricket as we hoped … and we feel it is in his best interests that he goes back and plays domestic cricket ahead of the one-day series at home.” Pathan will play for Baroda in their last two Ranji games against Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu in January.
Asked if Pathan would be part of the World Cup squad if he did not get wickets for Baroda, chairman of selectors Dilip Vengsarkar said the team would be decided “purely on form and fitness”. Pathan, he said, would “have to go back and perform”.
Pathan had captured the nation’s imagination with his wicked outswinger and boyish good looks. But that’s in the past. Team insiders feel Pathan has lost his self-belief as a result of the pressures that cricket superstardom brings. And if he can’t make a comeback, his will probably be Indian cricket’s most tragic story.