x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Time is right for return of Irfan Pathan to the India side

It is worth the Indian selectors considering Irfan Pathan for a recall to the Test side.

The flight from Sydney to Perth takes more than four hours, and most members of the Indian cricket team had their earphones plugged in almost as soon as they took their seats.

One of them, though, was reading a copy of Inside Sport, and his own one-page profile. He smiled through the initial paragraphs and then sat up with a start when he came to one that spoke of how senior members of the team had subjected him to "Sir Gary"(Sobers) jibes when on a flight to the Caribbean.

A few minutes later, a colleague who was sitting next to him told Irfan Pathan that I had written the profile.

He looked across the aisle at me for a few seconds and then asked: "How did you know this story?" I wouldn't reveal my source but I did ask him if it was factually correct. After a shy smile, and a nervous glance across at some of his seniors, he said yes.

In January 2008, at the WACA ground in Perth, a venue where no team other than the West Indies had won for 23 years, Pathan had match figures of five for 117 and made 74 runs as India scripted a remarkable victory that ended Australia's winning streak at 16.

He has played only two more Tests since, the last of them in April that same year.

Pathan was just 19 when he shared the new ball on his debut in Adelaide on the 2003/04 tour, and just 21 when he took a first-over hat-trick against Pakistan at the National Stadium in Karachi.

The subsequent decline was so swift that all sorts of experts advanced all manner of technical reasons - everything from the way he loaded up to how his wrist position had changed.

The real reason, which Greg Chappell - then India's coach - was privy to, cannot be revealed here, but it involved personal issues that badly affected the focus that had been such a key element in his ascent.

Now, nearly four years on from the last highlight of his international career, Pathan is being mentioned as a possible wild-card replacement for the injured Praveen Kumar in the Test squad.

In four Ranji Trophy games, he has taken 21 wickets at 14, swinging the ball both ways and impressing the likes of TA Sekhar, who once worked with him at the MRF Pace Foundation.

If Zaheer Khan is match-fit, India's first-choice attack in Australia would have Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav and either R Ashwin or Pragyan Ojha supporting him. Varun Aaron would play the part of the pacey reserve, but there would still be room in the squad for a clever bowler.

Even during his best years, Pathan was never someone to send the speed-gun devotees into a tizzy.

Accuracy and late swing were his calling cards. "Bowling in Australia isn't just about being fast," said Sourav Ganguly recently.

"You have to remember that they play pace pretty well. They're used to it. So you have to be clever."

For all the success he has enjoyed in the Indian Premier League, Yusuf, his older half-brother, has eclipsed Pathan in recent years.

Having played no part in two successive World Cup campaigns, he is now synonymous with the what might have been story.

But Irfan is still only 27. On the eve of India's last Australia tour, Virender Sehwag, whose form and confidence plumbed the depths towards the end of the Chappell era, was a late inclusion. He, like Pathan, played a crucial part in the Perth success. Unlike Pathan, he has not looked back since.

In some ways, Pathan paid the price for being a talisman of Chappell's side. But with Zaheer now 33 and increasingly injury-prone, this is the time to bring him in from the cold. There is no greater spur than redemption.