Irfan Pathan was a sight to behold in his prime. A talented medium-pacer, he was one of the crucial cogs in India's bowling attack for a long time. Pathan is best remembered for his Test hat-trick against Pakistan in Karachi in 2006 when he removed Salman Butt, Younis Khan and Mohammad Yousuf off the fourth, fifth and sixth deliveries.
His spell of three for 16 in the inaugural World T20 final against Pakistan in 2007 earned him the Man-of-the-Match award. But a series of injuries later in the career resulted in lack of pace and form. These days he wields the microphone.
In this interview with Sportstar , Pathan holds forth on the state of India's fast bowling, workload management and more.
READ : Ian Bishop: Pace renaissance key to world domination in all formats
Indian fast bowling in the early 2000s and now: what is the fundamental difference?
The biggest difference is how the focus on fitness has been taken to another level. When I made my debut, the team's mindset had started to change under the likes of John Wright and Greg Chappell. And fitness in what sense? It's about cricket-specific training in the gym. When the transition was happening, it was more about gaining muscles and long-running. Functional training was just about to enter the Indian team as well, but now even the domestic cricketers are taking to exercise progressions and functional training which has changed things drastically.
The workload is often cited as a reason for injuries to fast bowlers these days. What is your assessment of how pacers are handled these days?
The talk about workload management and training has always been there. It's nothing new, but in the age of social media, you sometimes risk overdoing it as well. So as a cricketer, you've to be mindful of the fact that it's not about having six-packs or looking good but about gaining the fitness that helps you achieve your targets on the cricket field.
READ : Injured Jasprit Bumrah says 'comeback will be stronger than setback'
How challenging is it psychologically for a player to make a comeback after he has been sidelined by an injury?
Our body is built to run straight, but as a bowler, there's twist and turn at every step: loading, landing and follow-through except the run-up, generate at least eight times the force of your body weight. So with that workload, you are bound to get injured. How you make a comeback after getting injured depends on the mindset of the player.
Like in 2010, I was told that I should stop playing but I made a comeback two years later. I worked very hard on the smallest things for one and a half years; kept doing the core, glute and small muscle activation exercises because I had multiple back fractures. Once that happens, the ability to trust your body goes away but I'm sure (Jasprit) Bumrah will come back better because he doesn't get affected by pressure. He's mentally strong and his persona will only help his case. But it's important to have a positive mindset and self-confidence.
READ : How Wriddhiman Saha trained for comeback
What role can the captain and team management play in the comeback?
They have a huge role to play. When I got injured, there was no communication from any side so I was doing everything on my own. But right now, things are different.
Virat (Kolhi) makes sure he communicates with everyone and the selectors, too, have been quite flexible about talking to the players and making sure they are aware of what the plan is going forward. Credit to the management for protecting the players. I wish we had the same luxury back when we were playing because the facilities today are top-notch.
It's very simple: if a player is capable of doing good things, then he should have the backing of his team.
The quality of pitches in the country has become better in the past few years. What has prompted this change?
We are seeing better pitches now because the quality of the SG balls has also gotten better. Just a couple of years ago, SG drew a lot of flak because the ball was getting very soft for the spinners as well. The current lot has a pronounced seam and it remains firm, so it lasts longer and you get more pace off the pitch. That's why you see bowlers generating more pace from the wicket with a Kookaburra or Dukes because those balls retain their hardness for a longer period.
I was impressed with the Pune pitch; the ball was moving around and there was some grass as well. The weather helped too. We should get more wickets like that because we've quality spinners in Ravichandran Ashwin and Kuldeep Yadav who won't mind bowling on greener tops because they will get that zip off the surface.