Yusuf Pathan: ‘When I’m having fun, bowlers fear me’

He may be 36 now, but when Yusuf Pathan is at the crease, there is no dearth of entertainment.

This is the first time since 2009-10 that Yusuf Pathan has scored more than 400 first-class runs in one season.   -  SUDHAKARA JAIN

Yusuf Pathan is a popular man in Baroda. As he flays the Karnataka attack, dispatching Ronit More for three boundaries in a row, someone sets off crackers in one part of Moti Baug. Kids from the academy gather under a banyan tree to watch; they are enthralled, applauding every shot with glee. Pathan does not seem to notice that this is the fourth innings of a low-scoring game in the balance; or he does, which is exactly why he bats this way. A marginally short ball from More is clobbered into the grass banks over mid-wicket. Spin is introduced; Pathan slog-sweeps for four, racing to 31 off 12 balls. He doesn't really do delicate run-chases.

It's nearly seven years since Pathan last played for India but his appeal is clearly undiminished. After Baroda lurches to its target of 110, Pathan having fallen for 41 along the way, he spends half an hour patiently posing for photographs.

"If I'm enjoying myself, such shots come from within," he says of his innings. "Today I came and started hitting the fast bowlers. They were bowling well. I didn't make any plans. Why should I think? The bowler is the one who should think. But it's not like I swung with my eyes shut. I hit the ball where I wanted to hit it."

Pathan surrounded by young fans after Baroda's game against Karnataka.   -  SUDHAKARA JAIN

This is the first time since 2009-10 that Pathan has scored more than 400 first-class runs in one season. There have been injuries and other circumstances over the years but he is, he says, finally having fun again. "I wasn't enjoying my cricket. A lot of things happened. There were coaching changes at Baroda too; the environment affected me a lot. But last year, I spoke to (VVS) Laxman bhai at SRH. He helped me. This season, I've tried to keep myself in a good frame of mind. It's something I should have done earlier. I want to play cricket the way Irfan (Pathan) and I used to when were 16 years old: it was so much fun. When I'm having fun, bowlers fear me."

Read: Baroda beats Karnataka in a thriller

Baroda's Ranji Trophy campaign has ended but next season, Pathan (3872 runs and 188 wickets) has the opportunity to complete a twin milestone: 4000 runs and 200 wickets in the competition, something only a dozen all-rounders have achieved. He has also played 57 ODIs for India, scoring hundreds against South Africa and New Zealand. Yet there lingers the feeling that he has not made the most of his potential. "I feel I did OK with the chances I got," he says. "I have no regrets. I did the hard work that was required of me."

Pathan has credited Sunrisers Hyderabad mentor V.V.S Laxman in helping him maintain a right frame of mind.   -  VIVEK BENDRE

 

Pathan is 36 now and it is a long time since he put on an India shirt, but he refuses to give up on the dream of turning out for the national team again. "Till I keep playing, that will be my motivation and hope. It's a different thing that it's going to be difficult now. But it's not impossible. People love me a lot here. They want to see me play for India again. I want to give them something. If I don't get picked, koi baat nahin. But why should I stop trying?"

Pathan first came to the Moti Baug ground as an 11-year-old, he says, riding on his father's bicycle with Irfan from their home in Mandvi, in the old city. Sometimes, they walked all the way. Under the old banyan tree at the entrance to the ground, he says, is where bicycles used to be parked. "I look there now and I see my car," Pathan smiles, pointing to his giant SUV. "Achha lagtha hain. God has been kind to me."