Ranji Trophy 2019-20: Irfan Pathan on life in J&K and the team's turnaround

In Irfan Pathan's two seasons at J&K, the side has emerged from a period of struggle to advance to Ranji Trophy quarterfinals.

Irfan Pathan watches the Ranji Trophy quarterfinals between Jammu and Kashmir and Karnataka in Jammu on Thursday.   -  R.V. Moorthy

Irfan Pathan’s official title at the JKCA is ‘mentor’, but that does not quite convey the entire picture. To this Jammu & Kashmir team, he is coach, administrator, strategist, occasional net-bowler, and reliable elder brother. His presence has a visibly uplifting effect on those around him; Pathan has an undeniable aura.

“This experience will stay with me forever,” he smiles. “I never thought I’d be able to manage so many things. Sometimes, I’ve handled the hotels and flights as well. I’ve done A to Z. If you have to work here, you need ice on your head, because you want things at the level you are used to. You can get agitated but you need to take the challenges head-on.”

That is exactly what Pathan has done. In his two seasons at J&K — first as a player-mentor and now a mentor — the side has emerged from a period of struggle to advance to the quarterfinals of the Ranji Trophy for the first time in six years. On this campaign, the team won six matches outright to top Group C; there has been undeniable improvement.

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“Last year, I was still trying to find out how the system works and get to know the players. This year, we laid down our selection policy: if you perform, you play. No senior or junior, no bias, no unnecessary rotation. If you play selfish cricket, you have no place in my team. We were able to take these tough decisions because I had support from (CEO) Ashiq Bukhari and (court-appointed administrator) Justice C.K. Prasad (retd.). I told the players: ‘If you qualify for the knockouts, the whole country is going to watch, and people will see how good you are.’ And that’s what is happening right now,” he says.

Pathan is amazed by the talent he has spotted in Jammu & Kashmir, and the resilience his young players have shown. “We’ve got so much raw talent from the smallest districts. Our players live in a difficult situation. They live in a conflict zone. And when you live in a conflict zone, it’s all about survival. Getting through the month of August, and then coming back and playing like this…they’re incredibly strong people.”

Off the field, Pathan has thoroughly enjoyed himself. “A lot of people will say a lot of things, but it depends on your mindset,” he says. “Kashmir is just beautiful. Look at Pahalgam. I’ve just come back from New Zealand and I think Pahalgam is prettier. It’s fantastic. I love the Wazwan (a delicious, meat-heavy platter in Kashmiri cuisine); that mutton is the best food in the world. If I accepted every dinner invitation I received in Kashmir, I would have to spend a full year just eating.”

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