By Karthik Parimal
When the Indian squad to tour Sri Lanka was announced a few weeks ago, many were baffled by the inclusion of Irfan Pathan. He didn’t have the performances that made people stop and take notice, but certainly he could get more to the table than Vinay Kumar – who was in the original squad - considering the former’s ability with the bat. In the bowling department, neither can bowl at express pace, but they do rely heavily on swing. However, Irfan’s experience and potential as a batsman places him a little ahead of Vinay, and there was no denying this after he steered India to a victory during the final One-Day International (ODI) against Sri Lanka. Vinay’s injury eventually turned out to be Irfan’s gain.
For someone who wasn’t part of the original plan, Irfan has done well to end the series on a high note. He became the highest wicket taker in the series after his five-for in the fifth ODI, and this performance augurs well for him as well as India whose fragile bowling line-up needs a bolstering. Irfan finished with eight wickets to his name in five matches at a decent average of 26.37. He has lived up to expectations even in the batting department, staying unbeaten on three occasions with a healthy strike rate of 92.68.
As Wasim Akram opined, Irfan needs to be given ample opportunities to find his foothold in the side again. After this performance, there’s certainly no denying the fact that the team will persist with him for a few upcoming series, but Irfan must ensure that he only goes from strength to strength hereafter. India needs a bowler who can also add value with the bat down the order, and by the looks of it, Irfan is the only feasible option currently available. Presently, he averages 23.39 and 29.72 in ODIs in the batting and bowling departments respectively, and it would do him and the Indian team a world of good if he could manage to interchange those averages.
Irfan has been in and out of the side quite frequently in recent times. But his unbeaten 34 in the third ODI against Sri Lanka must have given his confidence a boost. The five-wicket haul in the final ODI only confirmed that fact. It was no surprise when Irfan revealed at the post-match presentation ceremony that his batting had indeed given him a lot of confidence. Now, if he can carry this form with the bat and ball into the upcoming series against New Zealand and the T20 World Cup, then the Indian bowling department will have one less issue to be worried about.
Irfan’s good form by no means signals the end of India’s bowling conundrums. As skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni stated, it gives the team theliberty of playing with five specialist bowlers. All-rounders like Yusuf Pathan and Ravindra Jadeja have shown a lot of potential but have often failed to deliver. Irfan’s return has looked promising thus far. In this series, Irfan has done what was expected of him with the bat, but one gets the feeling that he could have inflicted much more damage with the ball during the previous four ODIs. Nevertheless, this is a good start, and he’s now got an opportunity, yet again, to cement his place in the side by building on this performance.
Credit must be given to Irfan for the way he’s handled himself when in the doldrums. Not many believed that he would don the national colours again, but he’s done well to prove his critics wrong. At his peak a few years ago, Irfan troubled the best of the batsmen with his swing. Although he’s not yet that effective now, his performance in the series has indicated that he could get there. His pace has dropped a bit, but that could eventually return as he grows in confidence. For now, Irfan needs to do what he’s been doing.
With the upcoming New Zealand series and the T20 World Cup in mind, Irfan’s good form is a positive sign for India. There is no questioning the stability he injects in the side. Irfan owed his good run in the series to god’s grace, and let’s hope, that with same god’s grace, he continues to deliver in all departments of the game in the future.
(If cricket is a religion and has many devotees, Karthik Parimal would be a primary worshipper. His zeal for writing and love for the sport of cricket is what has brought him here. Karthik can also be followed on Twitter)