DateLine: 16th July 2006
From glamour boy to also ran. From the spearhead of the attack to a fifth bowler option. That was what Irfan Pathan was reduced to on the recently concluded tour of the West Indies. This along with the treatment meted out to Harbhajan Singh who was quite inexplicably played in only two of the four Tests will always remain a blot on an otherwise successful Test series. When a team emerges triumphant few questions are asked. ``We won didnít weíí is the refrain. But that should not be the case. My counter argument would be that if the two had been treated in keeping with their stature and reputation India would have won in a more emphatic manner.
Letís consider Pathanís case. After an impressive debut in Australia in 2003-2004 when he was promoted at the age of 19 from the India A ranks to the spearhead of the attack Pathan made swift progress chiefly as an incisive bowler who had both pace and swing. Over the next couple of years he supplanted Ajit Agarkar, Zaheer Khan, Lakshmipathy Balaji and Ashish Nehra as the countryís big new ball hope. He took wickets regularly by providing the early breakthroughs or slicing through the tail in the manner of all good pace bowlers. But deep down it could be seen that his batting too could be a bonus for he struck the ball hard and high with confidence and youthful exuberance. Was he just a bits and pieces player or could he develop into a genuine all rounder the kind the country had been yearning for since Manoj Prabhakar was discarded after the 1996 World Cup? That was the question being debated.
When Greg Chappell took over as Indian coach he also saw in Pathan a cricketer who could be encouraged to blossom out as an all rounder. It was Chappell who took the initiative in promoting him as a pinch hitter in the one-day game and by playing him up the order in Test cricket Ė even as an opening batsman. And in keeping with his reputation of rising to the occasion and relishing a challenge Pathan came good with a number of valuable knocks in both versions of the game. During the 2005-06 season both in ODIís and Tests it was obvious that he made quite remarkable progress with the bat without losing any of his destructive qualities with the ball. The crowning glory with the latter was of course his historic hat trick against Pakistan earlier this year but it must not be forgotten that he took 21 wickets in two Tests against Zimbabwe at the start of the season. In fact it was during this series that he first showed signs of emerging as an all rounder and he maintained the progress in Test matches against Sri Lanka, Pakistan and England.
So finally the decade long search ended and the country hailed Irfran Pathan the all rounder Ė a title deservedly won as confirmed by figures. At the moment his 25 Tests have produced 835 runs with a highest score of 93, six fifties and an average of 27.83. His bowling statistics remain impressive Ė 91 wickets at 30.79 and a strike rate of 55.8. These figures are already better than those registered by other pace bowling all rounders like Abid Ali, Rusi Surti, Madan Lal, Roger Binny, Karsan Ghavri and Prabhakar. Also letís not forget that that he is the countryís only genuine all rounder, he is young and fit and has a record that underlines his skill. He should be assured of a place in the side almost as much as the other regulars in the side.
It is this realization that makes it hard for the Indian cricket fan to come to terms with the way he was treated in the West Indies. He played in four ODIís doing reasonably well before being rested for the final game to give the bench strength a chance. But when it came to the Test series he was played in only one of the four matches ostensibly because the tour management opted for a four-bowler policy. But even under these circumstances Pathan should have been one of the first choices in the playing eleven. A senior and performing cricketer should have been given his due.
Chappell made a rather untenable defence of not playing Pathan. According to him Pathan was tired after the ODIís and ``we thought he needed a break. The break has done him no harm and he would learn from the experience. He needed rest and we felt it was in his best interest." On the contrary the break could do him and his confidence some damage and certainly the rest was not in his best interests or in the interests of the team. It now remains to be seen whether Pathan recovers from this shabby treatment. Mentally very strong Pathan could stage a strong comeback. All the same what was meted out to him was quite unnecessary and not in keeping with his rising stature and growing reputation. One can only hope it will not happen again.
(Article: Copyright © 2006 CricketArchive)