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The Rediff Cricket Interview / Irfan Pathan

Faisal Shariff | February 16, 2004

Faisal Shariff

Six months ago Bangalore fashion personality Prasad Bidappa glimpsed a handsome, light-eyed, 6'1" lad outside a Bangalore hotel and asked if he would be interested in modelling.

"Let me prove myself on the field first," the 19 year old said.

Two months ago, Irfan Pathan finally stepped up to the big stage when he opened the bowling for India in the historic second Test against Australia at Adelaide and snared the big-scoring Matthew Hayden early on.

Pathan was initially chosen as a backup for Zaheer Khan, Ajit Agarkar and Ashish Nehra. The latest addition to India's battery of left-arm fast bowlers wasn't sure of getting to play a single game when the tour began. But by the time it ended, he was India's leading wicket-taker in the limited overs VB Tri-series, with 16 scalps.

Sitting in a Mumbai hotel, Pathan is explaining the difference between first-class and Test cricket. "It is not a big difference," says the youngster with a maturity beyond his years. "It is a huge difference!"

So how on earth did he take the big step up from the under-19 level, where he picked up nine wickets for 16 runs against Bangladesh in an Asian tournament, to Test cricket?

"People forget that I played 30 first-class games before I played under-19," says Pathan. "I have played about three seasons, which includes the Duleep Trophy, the Ranji Trophy, the Irani Trophy, and also the India 'A' tours to Sri Lanka and England.

"Your confidence level goes up. In first-class cricket you can relax at times. But the pressure of bowling in a Test is something else. I just can't express it."

Pathan's rise has been meteoric and his CV already includes an official reprimand by the International Cricket Committee for mocking Australian batsman Damien Martyn in the second final of the VB Series.

Pathan refuses to discuss the incident though a teammate revealed the story. After an edge from Martyn's bat flew past gully, Pathan gave him the glare. 'Don't stare at me, you little piece of ****!' Martyn screamed at him to which Pathan asked him to shut up and bat.

When Pathan eventually had Martyn caught, he grinned and clapped mockingly though he did not utter a word.

"I am khadoos [mean] on the field," he admits. "You have to be aggressive against the Australians, otherwise you don't compete with them."

He picked up 16 wickets in ten games in the tournament, but he is still far from the finished product. His figures are impressive as well as intriguing. Off the 538 balls he bowled in the VB Series, 497 runs were smashed at 5.54 an over. Add to that 40 wides, the most bowled in the series.

Clearly, though Pathan is the find of the tour, there are some edges to be smoothened.

He is aware of this himself. Not for him a cliched statement like 'I am going to do my best and play for a long time for the country'. He knows the harsh reality of professional sport. "I have understood," he says, "that in international cricket you will have more bad days than good. My goal will be to reduce those bad days.

"Take any top-order batsman who plays about 200 one-dayers. He would have approximately 15 centuries in his career. That is 15 good days and 185 bad ones.

"I am lucky I was aware of all these things on my first tour. For a first tour I think it has been fantastic for me.

"I will always keep it in mind, but never let it go to my head."

Pathan praises captain Sourav Ganguly for his support. "He not only leads with a positive frame of mind, but also backs us youngsters. What can be better for a 19 year old than to be told by his captain, 'You will do it. You have done it before'?

"It was magic for my confidence. I had (Sachin) Tendulkar from mid-on screaming, 'Shabbash Irfan, accha daal raha hai, keep going'."

He recounts an incident when Rahul Dravid, standing in for Ganguly in the match against Zimbabwe at Perth, told him, 'You have been our best bowler. Let's do it again.' That vote of confidence was enough for Pathan to claim 4 for 24 and become the second youngest Indian to capture a four-wicket haul in a one-dayer.

V V S Laxman always taught him to keep his head high irrespective of the state of the match. "I don't think I could have learnt this in a hundred first-class games," he says humbly.

Gifted with the ability to swing the ball into right-handed batsmen, Pathan believes that getting hit for runs might disappoint him, but it never breaks his resolve to walk back and run in to bowl at 110 per cent. 

"We are a strong-hearted family," he says. He is not exaggerating. His father Mehmood Pathan has had three heart attacks, yet continues his duties as a muezzin at the Jamma Masjid in Vadodara.

Pathan was nervous on his first day in Test cricket since he only learnt about his selection in the playing eleven that morning. He then decided he would concentrate on his forte that had got him this far. "My game plan was simple," he recalls. "Swing the ball, stick to line and length. If they hit good shots, don't worry. Their aggression is the best chance for me to pick wickets."

That is exactly what happened when he pitched one outside off and swung it away from Matthew Hayden's blade. "I got Hayden out in my third over in Test cricket. I was over the moon. It will stay forever as my best wicket," he says.

On a circuit where the only time a quick bowler achieves stardom is when he fires the ball in at close to 100 mph, Pathan wants to carve his niche as a quality swing bowler not fretting too much about the speed guns.

"I will get faster," he says. "Speed will come with age. I will get stronger and put on more muscle. Even now without much effort I touch 140 kph."

Ask Pathan about the finest moment of the tour and he has no hesitation in picking the win in Adelaide. That, he says, meant the world to him.

The other moment he will cherish forever is when he met his idol, Pakistani legend Wasim Akram. "He gave me some invaluable tips," says Pathan. "In Adelaide he told me how he swung the ball on that very ground for the first time. It was amazing just talking to him."

Equally important in Pathan's performance was Australian bowling coach Bruce Reid's contribution. He told Pathan to stop trying to get a wicket with every ball and also pointed out that rhythm was the most essential ingredient in his bowling.

"Rhythm is the key to my bowling," says Pathan. "Bruce told me to avoid bowling too quick. He told me that I will get better with time. He taught me a couple of things about my action and how to check a batsman's weakness."

There is another facet to this talented kid: batting. Once, batting at number seven in an under-16 game in the Vijay Merchant Trophy, Pathan got hit in the face and suffered a deep cut inside his mouth. Hearing the opposition laugh as he walked off the field to get treatment, Pathan walked back out after receiving 12 stitches in the mouth and smashed 72 runs in quick time.

"I always enjoy my batting," he says. "But it is too early to talk about it. I have some goals in mind, but I don't want to talk about them."

Photograph: William West/AFP/Getty Images

Image: Dominic Xavier

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Number of User Comments: 35

Sub: hai pathan u r the best ,always go on the field to put in ur best

remember the nation loves u best of luck for ur future love poonam

Posted by poonam

Sub: be down to earth

Irfan, U r going good. Remember Allah has given you this place, so try to abide by His laws and don't let the success go ...

Posted by majid

Sub: We Love U

Hi Irfan I must say that u r da Best. I m also from Gujarat. All the best. Have full confidence.

Posted by Srishti Srivastava

Sub: U r a nice player

Even I live in Sri Lanka, I have seen your talents in the TV. I think u r a very nice and well known player ...

Posted by Anushangi

Sub: all da best

hi irfaan, i jus hope dat u keep ur attitude up!!!!!! all da best 4 da future.....

Posted by sailie


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