A brief encounter with an old friend and new ball partner Lakshmipathy Balaji at Chepauk gladdened Irfan Pathan’s heart.

Here, in the city, with the Jammu & Kashmir team for the Vijay Hazare one-day competition, Irfan said to Sportstar , “Bala has always been close to me.”

The two not just shared the new ball with telling effect for India during the epoch-making tour of Pakistan in 2004, but got along famously off the pitch as well. Irfan would sing old Hindi numbers for Bala. “He loved songs from Mohammad Rafi and Kishore Kumar.”

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And, on the field, the left-right pair swung the ball from different angles, denting Pakistan’s batting and making the sort of music that the Indian camp grooved to.

“What a tour, India won both the Test and the one-day series in Pakistan for the first time. Can’t forget,” said the 33-year-old Irfan. That tour broke barriers, created bonds. The message travelled beyond cricket.

When in the mood, Irfan continues to sing. These days you can find him humming, ‘Jeena, Jeena,’ sung by Atif Aslam in movie Badlapur.

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And, he has picked up one of Balaji’s habits - watching movies. “I do not just watch movies, but often force my wife, Safa, not so keen about films, to join me. Recently, I liked the sequel to Blade Runner.”

Then, his 21-month-old son Imran Khan keeps Irfan busy. “He keeps learning new things. There is a milestone for us every week. Becoming a father changes you,” he said.

Irfan revealed, “Imran Khan was the name of our eldest brother who passed away when he was just three. I have named my son in his memory.”

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Of course, he is extremely close to his elder brother Yusuf. “He hits the ball like a demon but has the heart of gold.”

After a year’s break from playing cricket - he did commentary in between - Irfan is back as a mentor-cum-player for Jammu & Kashmir.

The all-rounder with 1,105 runs and 100 wickets in 29 Tests said, “You seek new challenges in life and I moved from Baroda to J & K. The abundance of talent there has to be harnessed. Personally, I am able to swing the ball back and win leg-before decisions, provide early breakthroughs.”

Even as he enjoys his new role, Irfan continues to hum. For him, life is a song.