The Indian all-rounder will pass his test with flying colours, writes Peter Roebuck
Irfan Pathan's fall from grace will prove to be temporary. An outstanding cricketer and a young man of calibre, he will learn a lot about life and his chosen game in this period of struggle and will return with a stronger grip on both.
Neither his swift rise nor the inspired performances that decorated the first part of his contribution were a fluke. Pathan is a gifted cricketer blessed with many sturdy characteristics. Such fellows may fall down but acknowledge their mistakes and are soon back on their feet.
For several reasons Pathan's setback is unsurprising. Cricket is a notoriously fickle game, and not to be mastered by mere humanity. Whereas older hands find ways of reducing the risks, emerging players can be tossed around like corks on a turbulent sea.
Moreover, while youngsters live and die by their often ill-defined talents, seasoned campaigners rely on technique. It's no use expecting consistency from an emerging cricketer. Might as well ask a new driver to take his time. A few pangs are required before the process is properly understood.
Pathan's experiences are normal. Just that they are taking place in public. And he is still a very young man. Just that he has been around a while. Maturity cannot be microwaved. Parents with sons and daughters, and adults with long memories, will not judge Pathan too harshly.
Another reason for Pathan's loss of form is that he is a swing bowler and a chancy batsman. Swing can desert a man in a minute. A minor injury can cause a small change in the action and then the ball refuses to change course. Nor is the flaw easily detected. Unable to take wickets, the bowler responds by striving too hard and when that does not work he tries to relax. He becomes a liability and seems to have shrunk, though actually he is the same fellow affected by hidden panic.
Pathan's batting hangs by an even thinner thread. He is a cavalier intent upon playing his strokes from the first ball. His batting depends on his bowling. When he is taking wickets he feels at liberty to swing the bat and becomes a dangerous opponent. When wickets are not coming his way he becomes cramped whereupon weaknesses are exposed.
Pathan's final problem is that too much has been put on his plate in his formative years. The idea that elders of the game reach a state of absolute wisdom is not supported by the evidence.
Everyone makes mistakes. Wise men make fewer, that is all, and avoid repetition. In hindsight, Pathan ought not to have been pushed up and down the order in one-day cricket, a strategy tried and hastily abandoned with Kapil Dev and Ian Botham.
Both these mighty cricketers were happier leading the counterattack than the initial assault. The same may apply to Pathan. Swashbucklers must feel free to chance their arms.
In any case, Pathan already had plenty on his plate. He had been chosen to lead the attack. Zaheer and Nehra had been rejected as too self-indulgent. Although it was the right move, it did put considerable responsibility on the shoulders of an apprentice.
Pathan will come back. He is too good a cricketer to allow the game to subdue him for long. His mind, body and spirit will recover and he will reappear not as a colt but as a thoroughbred. A fine young cricketer has come across hazards others encounter as teenagers. It is his truest test, and one he will pass with flying colours.