The word was out. It was a matter of time before non-performers were sent back. Unfortunately for Irfan Pathan, and if I could add — no less unfortunate for Indian cricket, that he was the first casualty.
Whatever the intentions, it seems that the decision to book him home was unsavoury and ill-advised. To have a proper grasp of things, it's imperative that Pathan's place in the team be appraised. Is he a bowler, a batsman or an all-rounder?
He had a dream start to his career and was an instant hit. There were obvious comparisons with the great Wasim Akram. At that time he was simply a bowler. Soon it was found out that he could bat reasonably well and he was touted to become a genuine all rounder — India's first in more than a decade.
Guru Greg sensed a chance and started promoting him up on the batting order. What should have been done sporadically was made a routine. Poor Irfan couldn't cope well with batting higher up. Nevertheless he came up with some good innings.
It's sufficiently conspicuous that the left arm seamer has been out of form in the bowling department, but he was doing reasonably well with the bat. Now, after grooming and wanting him to become an all-rounder, it's absurd to say that his prime responsibility is to bowl. This was the reason given for dropping him for the second Test in South Africa.
One must not forget that Pathan came up with an inspiring 111 not out in a match against a Rest of SA side in the first innings. This knock was all the more important because the Indian team was down in the dumps after losing the ODI series, and had it not been for Pathan, India could well have lost the warm-up match as well. Pathan followed the first innings century with 40 not out in the second innings and was the top scorer for India in both the innings. After a string of losses, India finally won a match in South Africa, thanks to Pathan.
Irfan must have been looking forward to play in the first Test, but he didn't find a place in playing XI, for reasons already mentioned above. But again, his exclusion defied logic.
India's Achilles' heel for long has been recurrent lapses in batting. It's not because of bowlers that India has been losing matches, but due to out-of-form batsmen who have failed to put up decent scores. The last few ODI matches decisively proved this point. This means that India has not been losing matches because of Irfan or for that matter any bowler not performing well. Even India's first win in South Africa was because of the splendid performance by our bowlers. The sorry batting story continues in the second Test as well. It's obvious that Irfan could have definitely been an asset as a batsman if not as a bowler.
All-rounders are a different breed. They can bowl and bat well with equal ease. Some manage to bat as well as bowl well at the same time, but usually they tend to excel in either of the areas at a particular point of time. Unidimensional lapse in the form of all-rounders are not uncommon. Jayasuriya was out of batting form for long but he continued to bowl well and now he has regained his batting talisman.
It would be too early to designate Irfan as a genuine all-rounder but he certainly has the aptitude to become one though things around him are not supportive. Packing him off must have done enough harm to his already bruised confidence. More often than not, lapses in form are preceded by a fall in self-confidence. It's anybody's guess what harms the inconsiderate repatriation must have done to Irfan's confidence.
If India has to win the World cup, or for that matter emerge as a consistent cricketing nation, it would need not batsmen or bowlers but all-rounders.
Probably India is the only major cricketing nation without an all-rounder. Australia have Andrew Symonds, England have Paul Collingwood, South Africa —Kallis, Kemp and Pollock, Sri Lanka — Jayasuriya, Pakistan — Abdul Razzaq, New Zealand — Daniel Vettori and West Indies have Bravo.
Ironically, Pathan's brilliant 111 remains the highest score by any Indian in this tour of South Africa. The likelihood of this being bettered is remote, given the delicate form of Indian batsmen. But the unambiguous message for Pathan is that he needs to bowl well to be in the team, even if he is batting better than the recognized batsmen in the team.
However, former chief of selectors Kiran More sees nothing wrong with the decision to send back Irfan. Speaking to HindustanTimes.com he said that Irafan has been sent back with an understanding with the player and that Irfan had agreed to go back home and improve his form in the domestic cricket. More believes that Irfan will soon be back in form for the all important World Cup.
It seems that Irfan was chosen to set an example for the newfound belligerence of the BCCI. However, even on the criterion of form there were better candidates than Pathan in the Indian line-up. For one, Virender Sehwag suited the bill appositely. In the hindsight, Viru should have been the chosen one to head home. Probably Irfan would have been a better option with the bat than Sehwag.
For those who matter, they think differently. Or, as I wonder, do they think at all.