Irfan Pathan will find it difficult to break into the India eleven

Irfan Pathan may get a chance to play if Mahendra Singh Dhoni decides to play three fast-bowlers or opts for six batsmen and five specialist bowlers © AFP

 

By Nishad Pai Vaidya

India’s bowling has often been its Achilles heel and something that has hampered its chances. With the exception of Zaheer Khan, none of the other bowlers have had extended run of consistency. The unwanted trend of Indian fast bowlers breaking down almost before every tour hasn’t helped matters as a first-choice option is often confined to the benches. R Vinay Kumar’s injury and subsequent withdrawal from the tour to Sri Lanka is one such example and it has paved the way for Irfan Pathan to get back into the scheme of things.

The early part of Pathan’s One-Day International (ODI) career was phenomenal as his precocious ability to swing the ball helped India get early breakthroughs on a number of occasions. However, a steep decline commenced in the middle of 2006 and he hasn’t maintained a hold over his spot since. In fact, he was out of the team for more than two years and made a comeback in December 2011. Since then, there have been occasions where he has shown glimpses of his old form, but it wasn’t enough for him to convince the selectors. Lukewarm returns in the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2012 made things even tougher for him.

During the Asia Cup earlier this year, Pathan bowled well in the first game against Sri Lanka. His four wicket haul helped India to a comfortable victory after Sri Lanka looked good during the run-chase. In subsequent games against Bangladesh and Pakistan, his performances slipped alarmingly. In both games, he looked off radar and conceded at more than a run-a-ball. The performance against Bangladesh, in particular, was the nadir as the opposition snatched the game from India’s grasp.

Coming in place of Vinay Kumar, it is difficult to see where Pathan would fit into India’s plans in Sri Lanka. Zaheer would lead the pack and his return is a huge positive for India. Umesh Yadav should be a certainty along with Zaheer as his pace adds a different dimension to the attack. It wouldn’t be fair to bench him as India’s attack would become too one-paced – something that has cost them dearly in the past.

Pathan may get a chance to play if Mahendra Singh Dhoni decides to play three fast-bowlers. However, Ashok Dinda would compete with him for that spot and is in-fact a front-runner in that race. His encouraging performance in the Caribbean with the India A side would further arguments for his selection – backed by the good domestic season he had. At this stage, Dinda is in form when compared to Pathan and should be ahead in the pecking order.

The other way Pathan may get a game is if Dhoni opts for six batsmen and five specialist bowler. Thus, Pathan may have to play with the all-rounder tag in such a scenario. This move may add balance to the side as the axing of Ravindra Jadeja has left India without all-rounders. However, it is unlikely that such a move would materialise as it would deny a Manoj Tiwary or an Ajinkya Rahane the well deserved opportunity to make an impression. There are inherent risks such as Pathan failing to provide that balance with his performances.

The burning question is: Is Pathan an all-rounder? He comes in place of a fast-bowler, but his batting abilities trigger different perceptions. His primary job is bowling, and one can safely say that the batting is an added bonus. It is time India decide what they expect from Pathan.

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a club-level cricketer with an analytic mind and a sharp eye. It was this sharpness which spotted a wrong replay in IPL4 resulting in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. Some of his analytical pieces have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. Nishad can also be followed on Twitter)