Irfan Pathan: Players peak at 27, but I didn't get a chance after that

Heading into retirement from all forms of cricket, Irfan Pathan speaks about his career, the experience of playing under different captains and more.

Pathan remains the only bowler to claim a hat-trick in the first over of a Test match.   -  S. Subramanium

Much before Irfan Pathan broke into the Indian team in 2003, he was considered one of the most talented swing bowlers. Many even compared him to the legendary Kapil Dev and Pathan delivered on the promise with consistent performances.

While he played a key role in India’s tour of Pakistan in 2004, Pathan's hat-trick in the first over of the Karachi Test of 2006 established him as one of the leading swing bowlers of his time.

But a series of injuries meant the all-rounder lost his place in the national team. Despite making his presence felt in the domestic circuit, he failed to return to the national fold after the 2012-13 season.

However, as Pathan walks into retirement from all forms of cricket, he makes it clear he has no regrets.

Looking back on his career, Pathan holds no regrets. Photo: Getty Images

 

"When I started, I did not have any support, and that motivated me to perform better. It has been a great journey," Pathan tells Sportstar.

In a wide-ranging chat, Pathan speaks about his career, the experience of playing under different captains and more...

Looking back at your journey, what do you think were the highlights of your career? 

It has been a great journey. I played cricket with all my heart and soul. Poori imaandari ke saath khela hoon. I am really proud of it and when I look back, I feel happy with my achievements. It’s been a great career. From 2004 to 2013 — where I was part of the Champions Trophy winning squad — it has been nearly a decade-long career. There have been comebacks despite career-threatening injuries.

Pathan was the man-of-the-match in the 2007 World T20 final win over Pakistan. Photo: Getty Images

 

I remember in 2010, the Indian team’s physio said that I can never play cricket. But fortunately, I made a comeback next year itself. That was a great moment for me. Over the years, I have achieved some things — and people keep reminding me that. The first-ever Test match hat-trick, being a part of 2007 T20 World Cup win — these are the memories I cherish. I was the Man-of-the-match in the Perth Test in 2008. Beating Australia in its den is not easy, but we did it. Whenever I was given an opportunity to serve my country, I did my job honestly. When I started, I did not have any support, and that motivated me to perform better.

At 35, when most of your contemporaries are still playing, why did you decide to call it a day?

I tried my best to play for India again, but I know it’s not going to happen. We should encourage the youngsters. In domestic cricket too, I have been part of Jammu and Kashmir cricket and after last season, I thought what’s the motivation to play anymore? I, however, continued with the team as a mentor, but it was time to take a backseat and let the youngsters play. That’s how it should be. When I was playing for Baroda, in 2009-10 season, I remember suggesting a youngster’s name for the Ranji Trophy team. He was just 15 then. Many questioned my selection and now that man — Hardik Pandya — is playing for India. I will keep contributing to Indian cricket, but it is always better if someone else takes my place in domestic cricket. There are a lot of other things in store for me and I will keep focusing on them.

There were speculations that you would play overseas leagues…

That will always be there in any cricketer’s mind. Right now, I am extremely fit and if opportunities come my way, I will think about them. But as far as Indian cricket is concerned, my time is up.

I have a lot of things on my plate, and I will soon reveal what they are.

Pathan burst on to the international scene in the 2003-04 season when he impressed on tours to Australia and Pakistan. Photo: Getty Images   -  Getty Images

 

What’s the one memory that you will take home?

Every time I visited Pakistan, I have returned with good memories. I first played there during the U-19 days and took nine wickets against Bangladesh — including a hat-trick — in an Asian U-19 tournament. Later, playing for the senior team, I performed really well. I went to one of the colleges in Lahore, and someone asked me, “Why do you play for India?"

I remember replying: “That’s where I was born and India has given me everything. I am a proud Indian. That’s my country. It’s about your homeland.” I remember the college students applauded my response. Rahul Dravid and Lakshmipathy Balaji had accompanied me to the college and that was a special memory.

As far as cricket is concerned, I used to give my team the first breakthrough and that was special. It had become a norm that if I was bowling with the new ball, there will be a wicket in the first, second or third over. People expected that and even I knew that I had the swing to trouble any batsmen. It doesn’t matter if I took 300 or 500 wickets, these small moments are always filled with joy.

Pathan was part of India's Champions Trophy winning squad in 2013. Photo: Getty Images

 

Are there any regrets?

Many people feel  I did not get the backing from the captain or the team management. I think that’s not in my control. All I cared about was doing well for the team and I am glad I could do that. But yes, one thing disappoints me. When I took my 300th wicket, I was 27. People peak at 27, but I did not play international cricket after that. Why? I don’t have an answer to that. Maybe, in the future, things will come out in the open.

When people play until 35, they end up performing even better. If I had played for that long, maybe, I would've had a more glittering career. But I am proud with whatever I have done -- with both bat and ball. I have been able to make an impact on Indian cricket and I am happy about that.

You played under several captains -- Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble, MS Dhoni. According to you, who helped you reach your potential?

I have enjoyed playing under all the captains. Sourav Ganguly was outstanding, he was very special. Everyone appreciated his captaincy and no fan will disagree that he managed the team well even in the toughest of times. He gave Indian cricket a direction and now we are benefiting from that. But I guess Rahul Dravid was the one who utilised me the best. Not only my bowling, but my batting performances also improved under him. My batting average improved immensely and my average as a No. 3 batsman was 32. After Dravid, I never got a chance to bat up the order.

Pathan credits former skipper Rahul Dravid for utilising him the best among the Indian captains. Photo: S. Subramanium

 

And I must admit Anil Kumble, too, was a fantastic captain. He handled the 'Monkeygate' scandal in 2008 very well. I don’t think many would have been able to handle it as well. We knew that pressure was mounting, but he took everyone along and ensured that we won the Test in Perth. It’s commendable.

You spoke about the 'Monkeygate'. At that time, it had literally become an India versus the Rest of the World affair. How was the mood in the camp?

Firstly, we were shocked. Secondly, we thought about it. And thirdly, we wanted to fight back and we did. We won the Test match in their backyard. People told us, the Aussie pacers -- Brett Lee, Shaun Tait, Mitchell Johnson -- would destroy us with their bouncers, but we were confident and we managed to pull off a win.

While injury had a major role to play, many feel even Greg Chappell was partly responsible for your downfall?

Lot of people blame Greg, but I think that’s unnecessary. It is basically covering up.

What are the things that you would not like to remember in your long career?

In 2012, when I had a knee injury, I played non-stop cricket for nine days. I played a three-day match against England, then I flew to Baroda, played Ranji Trophy the next day and scored a hundred against Karnataka and bowled 22 overs. I got injured on the last day of the match. Before that, I was playing the Champions League T20 for Delhi Daredevils. Took the flight to Mumbai and played the three-day game against England the next day. I knew it would be tiring, so I consulted the national selectors and the coach. One of the selectors told me, “If you have to make a comeback to Test cricket, you must play all these games.” That’s something I will not like to remember.

In 2012, at the advice of a selector, Pathan played non-stop cricket for nine days despite nursing a bad knee. Photo: Getty Images

 

In the future, if I mentor players, I will make sure we manage the workload better. No one should go through what I faced in terms of clarity.

Is there anyone in the Indian team who you turn to?

VVS Laxman. He is always there to help me out. Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble are always there to guide me. Even Sourav Ganguly has been helpful. I am glad that I could play with these legends. Playing for India itself is a special feeling. I will always cherish these relationships.

What’s next?

In the future, I will continue mentoring young cricketers and also focus on commentary. I love doing it. People appreciate that as well. But helping out players is the best feeling. When I started playing cricket, a lot of my seniors helped me out. There was TA Sekhar, Rashid Patel… And I’m indebted to them. I also want to contribute to the game in my own way.

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