Irfan Pathan burst onto the international scene as a teenager full of promise, swing and runs, but played his last international match just before turning 28, in October 2012. Pathan, who retired from the game only in January this year, finished with 29 Tests, 120 ODIs and 24 T20Is. He often had to battle injuries and long spells out of the game, but Pathan held that if he been backed more in the second half of his career, he could have become “the best all-rounder India ever produced” in ODIs.
“In terms of achievement, there could have been a lot more. I really believe that in one-day internationals, I could have been the best all-rounder that India ever produced, I could have been,” Pathan said in an interview with rediff.com. “That didn’t happen because I didn’t play as much cricket as I could have because my last game for India was at the age of 27.
“I see people playing till the age of 35 or 37 like England fast bowler [James] Anderson. Obviously the conditions in England are different. I think if you play till 35, things would have been better, but that’s gone, it’s done and dusted.
“Whatever matches I played, I played as a match-winner, I played as a guy who made the difference to the team. Even if I took one wicket — the first wicket for the match — that made a big impact on the team. Whatever innings I played with the bat, I played to make a difference. That’s what will stay with me throughout my whole life.”
In ODIs, Pathan held that his numbers were used against him even when his role in the team changed from being a strike bowler to being the all-rounder who came on first change.
“The one thing I always get disappointed is that a lot of people only see the numbers and numbers don’t always give you the right picture. If you see the first 59 ODI matches that I played, I got to bowl with the new ball,” he said. “And when you are the new ball bowler, you got the opportunity to bowl with the new ball as well as the old ball. Your aim, your mindset, your body language and your responsibility is to take wickets.
“When you are bowling first change, when you are a defensive bowler according to your captain and coach, you have to play the role of containing the runs. You have to make sure that you don’t give away too many runs. So if your role becomes different, then your numbers also become different as well.”
Pathan largely took the new ball for India in ODIs till the end of the Champions Trophy 2006. In that time, he played 69 ODIs, and didn’t open the bowling on only two occasions. In that period, he took 113 wickets at an average of 24.78 and an economy rate of 4.96.
Having played 69 ODIs in under three years, mostly under Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid’s captaincy, he went on to play only 51 more in his next six years, a period that coincided with MS Dhoni taking over the reins. He took the new ball only 19 times in that second half.
“I actually feel that people from the team should have spoken about it,” Pathan said. “They should have said that, ‘Yes Irfan used to take wickets, but now we have given him a different role. We have given him the role of first change bowler and someone who can bat at No. 7 or No. 8, which is very much required in one-day cricket right now.’ Now, if an allrounder goes for around six runs per over and takes one wicket per match, you are happy with that, but you were not happy with Irfan Pathan who did the same thing. Why is that?”
While Pathan agreed that a player needed to be flexible, he held that a change in role needed to be acknowledged, and supported, by the team management too.
“I am not saying that I could only bowl with the new ball. No, I was ready to bowl with the old ball, I was ready to bowl with the new ball as well. But in a team game, when you have a different role, your numbers reflect differently. When Mahendra Singh Dhoni was the captain, he used to be very flexible in his batting order, so his numbers used to be different. Now when he is not flexible, obviously his numbers are getting affected. That is why either his average or strike rate will also get affected. It’s a team game. It’s not only about individuals.
“The player has to be flexible, but if his role has been given differently, then it is the team’s responsibility to talk about it, but no one talks about it.”