Irfan Pathan has not been able to find a place in the India side © Getty Images

 

By Tim Holt

 

It was the farewell Test for Steve Waugh at the Sydney Cricket Ground in 2004 against a very fine Indian side. The game was all about the farewell of an iconic cricketer, with on-field controversies and contentious umpiring adding spice to what was already a fiercely-fought series between India and Australia.

 

As the curtain came down on one career, there was the nice fragrance of another blooming career. The talent was unmistakable when a vicious 145kmh yorker made a mess of Adam Gilchrist’s stumps. It’s doubtful if the great man had been so badly beaten and bowled as he was that day by a greenhorn. The precocious teenager was rekindling memories of the great Wasim Akram, more so because he was a fairly decent batsman. And this young man was not in the Australia ranks! He was seen as God’s gift to India – a team that has historically not been rich in the fast bowling department. That young man was Irfan Pathan.

 

Not since the days of Kapil Dev India has an all-rounder instilled so much hope into Indian cricket. Pundits were in agreement that Irfan would be there for at least a decade, if not more. But within less than four and half years, Irfan’s Test career had come to a standstill.

 

Which begs the question: How could someone as unquestionably talented as Irfan not even find a place in a team of 15? Especially considering that India is looking for a quality left-arm seamer and a genuine all-rounder?

 

Injuries had taken a huge toll on Irfan’s career. But, in my opinion, these injuries were primarily as a result of the demanding itinerary that the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has subjected its players to. The BCCI’s love affair with money-spinning ODI series coupled with megabucks the Indian Premier League has not done any good to Irfan’s body. The overworked body of a cricketer, especially a fast-bowling all-rounder, needs adequate rest, but with a punishing 12-month packed schedule, there was no rest. The price had to be paid.

 

Had Irfan been played in the more meaningful matches and rested for the less-demanding ones, India would have had a quality all-rounder today that would have made a huge difference to the team’s chances of winning the 2011 World Cup.

 

The then Indian coach Greg Chappell had said: Being a young man, he (Irfan) striving to improve himself all the time. I would say at times he has worked too hard.”

 

If that was the verdict of a key person in the team management, why wasn’t Irfan rested? Why was he allowed to carrying on to the point that his body could take no further?

 

In his debut series, Irfan was an express fast bowler who swung the ball prodigiously. But he was forced to reinvent himself as an opening batsman who also bowled medium-pace. It got to a point, when Irfan didn’t know what was expected of him and what is role was in the team.

 

Irfan is just 26 today, yet his career is in ruins. A man who should have been one of the big attractions in the ongoing World Cup was not even in the running.

 

While one Pathan has come from nowhere to set the World Cup ablaze, another Pathan who should have done that is in the oblivion. Sad.

 

(Tim Holt was born in Northern Ireland in 1952. He found his love for cricket when he was sent to South Africa between 1964 and 1966. He is an unashamed cricket purist who feasts on Test cricket. His passion for the game cuts across geographical boundaries and into the domestic competitions. Tim, who has a background in journalism and teaching, has lived and worked in many places across the world)