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Never give up. Believe in yourself: Irfan Pathan

Last updated on: May 26, 2011 10:24 IST

Image: Irfan Pathan
Photographs: Reuters Prasanna D Zore

These words have finally come true for Indian cricketer Irfan Pathan. After being out of the national cricket team for over two years (his last One Day International game was in February 2009 against Sri Lanka), the 27-year-old finally made the cut for last two one-day matches against the West Indies riding on his performance in the domestic circuit.

Irfan spoke with Prasanna D Zore in May this year at the launch of Anita and Harsha Bhogle's book The Winning Way about the lessons he has learnt, his inspiration and his confidence in his ability to make a comeback soon.

We reproduce the interview to celebrate the youngster's return to where he belongs.

It takes guts and gumption to admit to one's mistakes. More so, when you are in the wilderness for almost three years and are putting in lot of hard work to make a comeback into the Indian cricket team.

That, in a nutshell, underlines the spirit and attitude of a 26-year-old, who made his debut at 19 and who by 23, was out of the national team after having been part of the World Cup-winning T20 side.

"Cricket is a game that teaches you a lot of lessons about life," says Irfan Pathan looking you in the eye when asked how he has coped with recognition and disappointments in his four-year cricketing career at the national level.

"I am a man on a mission. I will make a comeback to the national side in the next 4 to 5 months," is his commitment to himself and his fans.

'As a cricketer Wasim Akram has been my idol'

Image: From left: Irfan Pathan, Wasim Akram, Nitin Paranjpe, Anita Bhogle, Harsha Bhogle, Piyush Pandey, Stephen Fleming, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Yusuf Pathan
Photographs: Sanjay Sawant/

Who inspired you to become a cricketer?

We loved watching cricket as kids. We did not have a TV set at home, so we used to go to someone else's place to watch cricket. I remember as soon as I started playing cricket I was in love with the game. I am still in love with the game and that's the reason I am toiling hard to make a comeback to the Indian team.

As a cricketer Wasim Akram has been my idol. Whenever I used to see him bowl I used to really get inspired.

What kind of bowling tips do you get from Wasim Akram now that you are trying to make a comeback?

He gave me tips in 2003-04 after which we did not have much interaction in terms of coaching. For bowling tips after that I always go to TA Shekhar (former bowling coach at MRF Pace Foundation), who has been a great help and whenever I need his help he is always around. Apart from that, with Delhi Daredevil's team I have Eric Simons who I rate very highly.


'I look up to VVS Laxman'

Image: VVS Laxman
Photographs: Reuters

Your inspiration or role models...

I really look up to [former boxer] Muhammad Ali for the way he has been a great sportsperson. And in cricket I look up to VVS Laxman and Wasim Akram.

VVS because of the way he carries himself off the field. I don't think there is anyone else like him in world cricket. He is an outstanding person. He has been through so much in his cricketing career. The due he is getting now, he deserved it much earlier. A lot of people say a lot of things about him but he truly is a special, special player.

There were times when he was under a lot of pressure but he still helped India win games. But when he made low scores people would put pressure on him. Yet he was graceful under pressure. The way he handled pressure during those days is quite outstanding. A lot of inspiration comes from him as well.

Muhammad Ali was a great fighter. He became the world champion three times in boxing but still after every championship title he had to start from zero. That is truly remarkable.


'Our parents taught us to be humble'

Image: Irfan Pathan with his parents Shamim Banu and Mehboob Khan and his brother Yusuf Pathan
Photographs: Courtesy: The Pathan Family

The values your mother and father taught you...

The values that your parents teach you make an impression on your mind forever. You have to store them and make sure you abide by them. Our parents taught us to be humble, to always keep our feet grounded, to make people around us happy, not to swear at people nor listen to other people swearing.

They taught us not to hurt anybody and "if somebody hurts you," they used to tell us, "and if you are not in the wrong make sure you speak up and stand up to such people."

But the most important thing we learned from them is the way they looked after us despite our humble beginnings. We used to stay in a small room, five of us -- two brothers, one sister and my parents -- and I remember my house was smaller than some of the hotel rooms you have here. But even then they made us feel happy.

When I am saying that we lived in small home I am not all complaining about it. I am trying to tell those who live like we did that you can make it big if you work hard and have a good work ethic. And irrespective of where and how you stay you can still be happy and content.

I can guarantee you that even then we were so, so happy and I thank god for the parents that we have. They really worked hard for our good upbringing and better future. It must have been very difficult for them but they did it gracefully and we respect them for that.

How difficult is it for you to live up to their expectations and not swear at players in the heat of the game?

(Laughs) Sometimes I do (swear) and my mother doesn't like it. She scolds me for that but I am not a person who swears all the time but it can happen in the heat of the moment. But she can lip-read me whenever I do because she has seen me grow; even my sister doesn't like it and they let me know about it in no uncertain terms. They ask me not to do it again.


'Cricket teaches you a lot of lessons about life'

Image: Irfan Pathan
Photographs: Rediff Archives

Lessons that cricket has taught you...

Cricket is a game that teaches you a lot of lessons about life. It takes you through lots of ups and downs in your career. Lot of things can go wrong. It puts in the limelight, but it also teaches you what is behind the limelight.

It teaches you to look after the people around you when you are in the limelight, no matter who they are or how they are. It teaches you to value people around you in good and bad times, no matter what happens to your career.

Life is not going to be green or as bright as it looks all the time from the outside. It tells you that when you perform it is not going to last forever. Also, when you don't perform, that's not going to last forever too. The same is true of life. But one can only make sure to look after one's family and try to do things the right way.

As you rightly said 'for a day', when Harsha Bhogle asked you during the book launch if you felt like a hero after the T20 World Cup triumph...

But that's the fact of life. I have been out of the team for the last two years but my fans still love me. They still want to be next to me, speak to me, want to know how I am feeling when I am trying to make a comeback.

I actually feel I am a very lucky man. Because when you are not playing for your country for two years, when you are away from the limelight, a lot of people forget you.

I am most grateful to my fans who have not forgotten me probably because of my background, probably because of the way I speak with them...

I don't know what. Or maybe they believe in my capability, and I need to do justice to them by working hard and making a comeback which, Insha Allah I will do soon.

I have no doubt about it but yes in terms of being a hero that day [T20 Wrold cup win] was very special when it took five hours to travel from Mumbai airport to Wankhede stadium.


'You need failure to learn in life and I have had my share'

Image: Irfan Pathan
Photographs: Rediff ARchives

How do you cope with disappointments and failure in life?

With experience. Some people are born with it but most of us learn to deal with disappointments, failure, pressure and ups and downs in life.

As someone has rightly said, 'you need to fail in life to achieve something'. So you need failure to learn in life and I too have had my share of failures. But what really matters is to learn from your failures and strive to get better.

But if you think failure is the end of your world then you are as good as dead.

Your best and worst cricketing moments...

As a cricketer and an Indian, getting the first India cap in Adelaide (in late 2003) when I played the first match for my country is the best cricketing moment for me.

Then the hat trick against Pakistan is obviously one of my best cricketing moments. The manner in which I got it really makes me feel happy and good about myself. Thank god for that. God has been very kind that I could swing the ball the way I did on that day.

Also winning the 20-20 World Cup and being the Man of the Match on that day was the icing on the cake.

My worst cricketing moment was obviously getting dropped from the team in 2007.


'Success is like a double-edged sword'

Image: Irfan Pathan bowls in the nets during India's training
Photographs: Rediff Archives

How did you cope with success when it came to you at a very young age?

Success is like a double-edged sword. If not handled properly it hurts. In that I was lucky to have a family that helped me remain rooted. Even today when I go home we sit on the floor to eat.

How are you preparing to make a comeback? Everybody's noticing the ball is swinging again, lethally...

Thank you, Masha Allah. God has been kind I am able to swing the ball again. I am able to realise what I need to do. But to make a comeback to the Indian team I need to play domestic cricket. It's sad that there is no domestic cricket to be played for the next few months. I would love to go out there and keep bowling.

If not domestic cricket I would love to play cricket wherever I can. Obviously if I get an NOC from the BCCI I will go and play abroad, if not I will wait, work hard and prepare myself for the domestic season.

But yes I feel confident and fit to play for the country once again. It may take some time but people are noticing that I am bowling the way I should be. I may not be bowling to the best of my ability but I cannot do that bowling in the nets. I need to play real cricket.


'I am getting big wickets of quality batsmen'

Image: Sachin Tendulkar
Photographs: Rediff Archives

Has IPL helped you emerge a better bowler?

IPL helped me to play 40 matches in a row. And when you play matches regularly against quality players it definitely helps your performance.

For me there are a lot of positives from the IPL, coming back to stage a performance after injuries. I have played at the international level for quite some time. Now I need to understand where I make mistakes, improve upon them and try to do better.

I bowled a lot of good spells during the IPL. Like getting the wickets of Sachin Tendulkar, the best wicket you can ask for, Jacques Kallis and Shaun Marsh means I am getting big wickets of quality batsmen with a good ball and not because they played a rash shot.

I plan to get even better with my yorkers, bouncers, short-pitched deliveries and bring in more variation in my bowling.

Your fitness mantras...

For a cricketer who bowls, his core (stomach, wrists, hands, and legs) is very important. If your core is not strong enough a bowler is in trouble. Then come upper body parts. Then come cardio-related and stamina-building exercises.

While working out is important, during the IPL matches you travel a lot and so you don't get much time to do cardio but that happens when you play a match. At such times we need to make sure we look after our core. I work out at least forty-five minutes, five times a week to build my core strength.


'My topmost priority is to make a comeback in the Indian team'

Image: A collage of Irfan Pathan and Anusha Dandekar

Let's talk about your link-ups with glamorous women now. How do you handle such distractions?

I don't want to comment on what people talk about my personal life. I want people to talk about my cricket -- be it positive or negative. I know how focused I am on my cricket and I don't have to justify or react to what people are speaking about.

I need to be very honest with my God and I have to justify my actions only to Him. If people are talking about my personal life let them do it. I don't need to react to what they say even if it is wrong. What I need to do is focus on my game.

No plans of marriage in the near future?

Absolutely not. My topmost priority is to make a comeback to the Indian team. I am still 26 and I want to make sure that when I am 40 I don't regret saying that I should have worked harder, worked in the right way to make a comeback when I was 26.

I know that marriage is a responsibility for which you need to have a lot of time for your spouse. But right now I am a man with a mission and that mission is to make a comeback into the Indian team. Insha Allah it will happen with time; I have no doubt about it and lot of prayers are with me along with my hard work I should soon make it.


'I will make a comeback in 4-5 months'

Image: Irfan Pathan celebrating with his teammates from King's XI Punjab
Photographs: Rediff Archives

Your message to your young fans, who look up to you...

Never give up. Believe in yourself. I want to thank them for the love they have been showering on me. I can see their love, their prayers; I can feel it all around me. They respect me and they always ask me: when are you going to make a comeback?

I respect them and thank them for trusting my abilities and me.

My message to my fans is: make sure that you never give up on a task and never doubt your abilities. You need to know what you can do with your life: you can want to become a musician, a painter, cricketer, anything. Whatever you want to become you need to believe in yourself. And don't lose that belief in life for money or fame. If you have that belief you can achieve anything in life.

By when do you think you will fulfil your fans' expectations of making it to the Indian team?

Sadly, as I said before, there is no domestic season right now and I can guarantee you if I would have played one month of domestic season I think I'd have made it (to the Indian team). I know for sure that I am ready for international cricket. The more matches I play the better it is.

I want to make a comeback as soon as possible. My target was to play in England in one-day cricket. Playing test cricket is going to come as well with time, but at least I want to play in England. Frankly I want to play any cricket anywhere so i can get a chance to kind of signal the selectors that I am ready.

I am going to ask the BCCI whether I can play matches outside India. If not England then it will be domestic matches to show my performance but it won't be more than four to five months before I get a chance to play for the Indian cricket team.