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VIJAY LOKAPALLY
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PERSONALITY As he gets set to leave for the ODI Tri-series in Australia, Irfan Pathan reflects on the good that a break did

He was seen as arrogant. “Not me,” he would smile. He was seen as snooty. “Certainly not me,” he would insist. How about fierce competitor? “That's surely me.” Irfan Pathan, left-arm seamer, left-handed batsman, essentially an all-rounder, is back to where he belonged not long ago. Two and a half years in the wilderness have taught him adequate lessons. “Some harsh, some pleasant,” he mumbles. For someone who was considered a fine all-rounder in the making, the Baroda cricketer, now 27, did not quite deliver. He had his famous moments on the field but failed to sustain them on a consistent basis.

An impressive debut in Australia, in 2003-03, was seen as an ideal launching pad for the ambitious young man, who did not even have proper bowling shoes and cricket clothing when he began playing in the neighbourhood. His multi-storeyed mansion in Baroda is a symbol of motivation for those wanting to make it big in cricket and life.

“Honestly, I don't think much of the materialistic gains. My cricketing conquests would matter more and I've learnt this in the period I was away from international cricket. It was a difficult period but it had its plus points, too. It made me a stronger and braver individual. I learnt how to value the good times and how to make the best use of good form,” said Pathan, happy to be picked for the one-day Tri-series in Australia scheduled to begin next month. Now many may remember the Lahore Test of 2006. A hat-trick in the match's first over by Pathan was a dream start. Pakistan three for zero. But India lost the match by 341 runs. “It shows how futile individual brilliance can prove in a team situation. There is no point in personal glory if the team does not win.”It was not always so for Pathan, 29 Tests (1105 runs and 100 wickets) and 108 ODIs (1372 runs and 154 wickets). He would look for performing and cementing his place. The competitive streak in him also meant that he sometimes stretched himself. “That hurt.” But he recovered soon, realised what was good for him, and came to accept certain things as facts of life and cricket.

When you speak to Pathan you notice the loads of philosophy that dominates the conversation. Let everything move towards the target, mental strength, physical strength are some of the terms that he repeats. Sample this, “I believe in being in now, being in the present, and not worry about what happened in the past or fret over what could happen tomorrow. It doesn't help.” Pathan remembers what T.A. Sekar advised him. “Remain positive and look to give your best at every level.”Sekar spent time with Pathan, initiated some corrective measures in his action and grip, encouraged the bowler to be a bowler and not a batsman. Help came from Sanath Kumar, former Karnataka coach. “Sanath Sir has a very good idea of the game and I thank him and Sekar Sir for my comeback to the Indian team. I have learnt a lot from them,” says a grateful Pathan. Looking forward to the Australian trip, Pathan comes up with a realistic response. “First things first! My job is to bowl well and that's what I will be looking at. I don't wish to neglect my batting but I am in the team essentially to bowl. My cricket is a work in progress. I am going to keep things simple. Cricket is a simple game. I have learnt that things happen when things are simple. There have been times when I have tried too hard and suffered. Cricket is hard work but it has to be done in an uncomplicated manner. Too much analysis doesn't make you a better player.”

Pathan, who played his last Test in April 2008, understands the importance of the skill factor. “Skills matter. So do performances. But that is not all. I know I lost my place because I was not bowling well. I accepted my exclusion and the criticism that I was not bowling well. There were reasons like injury, action, loss of rhythm that made my cricket look bad. But I learnt not to worry about things that were not in my control.”

Where did the support come from? “Family and friends; the bad period taught me the role that family plays in your life. There is professional life and there is personal life. I will never mix them. Professional life is important but can't match the time spent with family and friends. Family teaches you to handle the ups and downs. Earlier I would think cricket was my life. Not anymore. Nothing can meet the affection that you get from your family and friends.”

How did he receive the news of his comeback? “To tell you the truth I was expecting it. I had been bowling well this season. The ball was coming out of my hands nicely and the swing was back. I was never a fast bowler in the true sense. Pace was not my strong point, swing was. There was no place for needless mind games. When I look back, I convince myself that it has been a nice learning process. Bad days will come, bad days will pass too. You bowl, don't get wickets. You bowl trash, get wickets. It is funny. But I am happy to be back. I know if I bowl well I will be there. How long, only time will tell!”

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

Cricket is hard work but it has to be done in an uncomplicated manner. Too much analysis doesn't make you a better player

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