Irfan Pathan...If there is a future for him, then it's the shorter format of the game © Getty Images
Irfan Pathan…If there is a future for him, then it’s the shorter format of the game © Getty Images

 

By Dileep V

 

There has been quite a hullaballoo over Irfan Pathan’s non-inclusion in the Indian team to tour Australia. Popular opinion suggested that Irfan would be the replacement for Praveen Kumar, pipping contenders like Abhimanyu Mithun and Ashok Dinda. Was this hype generated because he took 21 wickets in three Ranji matches this season or was it consistent performance since he was dropped?

 

The yardstick for making into the Test team is the performance in the domestic tournaments like Ranji, Duleep and Irani trophies. Since being dropped from the Indian team in April 2008, Irfan has only played 16 first-class matches, including the Board President XI against Australia and three for West Zone in Duleep Trophy.

 

Irfan Pathan’s record in first-class since April 2008

 

M Wkts Avg SR Best
16 79 18.38 36.53 7-35

 

Though the average and strike-rate are pretty good, it doesn’t reflect the entire story. An average of around 4-5 matches per year isn’t going to set him up for a grueling Australia tour, where he would need to play four Tests and two first-class matches in one and half months time. If this year’s performance is not taken into account, the average drops to almost 20. Also he hasn’t played against an international side for almost three years now.

 

With 21 wickets, Irfan leads the chart this year, but Dinda and Manpreet Gony are just behind with 19 each. Irfan didn’t play a single Ranji game in 2010-11 season owing to his back injury, but did participate in the IPL that year and the next. He was the 17th highest wicket taker with 22 wickets in 2009-10 season, whereas his competitors for the spot like Mithun and R. Vinay Kumar got more than double the number of wickets. Even RP Singh, Dhawal Kulkarni and Gony had more wickets under their belt that season.

 

Performance of other fast bowlers in first-class since April 2008

 

Name M Wkts Avg SR Best
Dhawal Kulkarni 38 126 26.50 54.90 7-50
R Vinay Kumar 32 116 23.82 49.50 8-32
Abhimanyu Mithun 27 103 29.07 50.21 6-71
Ashok Dinda 24 88 29.20 54.95 7-44
Manpreet Gony 26 86 28.05 52.47 6-143

 

Kulkarni played for India A in six matches against quality opponents in Australia A and West Indies A on Indian pitches. He was also the highest wicket-taker in Ranji Trophy Super League in 2008-09 with 42 wickets. Mithun’s 27 matches include four Tests, three in Sri Lanka and one against West Indies at home. With 47 wickets, he was the highest wicket-taker in Ranji Trophy Super League in 2009-10.

 

Vinay Kumar was the second highest wicket-taker in 2009-10 and also played three matches for India A against Australia A. Manpreet Gony took 19 wickets at an average of around 21 this year and has been consistent for the last three years. Dinda, too, has been chipping regularly and is the fourth highest wicket-taker this year with 19 wickets at 22 per wicket.

 

If brilliant performances in four Ranji matches are a yardstick to select a player for a Test series, then Gony and Dinda too have a good case, as not only have they performed as well as Irfan this year but have also done well over the last few years.

 

If stats were to be the ultimate factor for selection, Irfan would have been selected unanimously, but the last couple of years he has lost not only his pace, but swing as well. He had a brilliant in-swinger when he made his debut, but in trying to master too many things at once he lost that potent weapon. The boy who made his debut almost nine years ago in Australia and bowled consistently above 140 kph is now bowling off/leg-cutters at 120 kph.

 

The selectors were right in ignoring him for the all important Australia Test series and given him a lifeline for the ODIs against West Indies. If there is a future for him, then it’s the shorter format of the game. He should stick to that and enhance his tottering International career.

 

(Dileep.V is a Scouser fan, Sports freak, Movie buff, Laggard Quizzer and dreams of setting foot on Anfield one day)