Be tactful about Pathan

Coach Greg Chappell, who publicly said that the all-rounder was not considered because he had lost his confidence, would do well to realise that the mindset of the Indian fast bowlers has insecurity as its core in spite of the tremendous hard work put in by them to reach the top.

Back from the West Indies, the disheartened Irfan Pathan must be wondering what he should do to regain his lost confidence. Greg Chappell publicly announced that Pathan was not considered as he had lost confidence and, bound by the BCCI contract, Pathan has not uttered a word in his defence.

Greg Chappell has to assess the mindset of an Indian fast bowler, which is quite different from the mindset of fast bowlers from other countries, and if Chappell has not realized this in one year then he probably never will. It is a mindset, which has insecurity as its core in spite of the tremendous hard work that the bowlers have put in to reach the top. Indian fast bowlers have to frequently bowl on dead pitches and run on hard outfields. There is hardly any recovery period and no rehabilitation centres to get them fit, and when one does succeed, like Irfan Pathan did at the age of 19, to understand that person's mindset and nurture it becomes a full-time job.

When Frank Tyson was coaching fast bowlers in Mumbai for three years from 1990 to 1993, one thing he drilled into the coaches' heads was the need to concentrate on the acceptability factor. Tyson picked up a few sentences in Marathi and Hindi to stress just how vital that aspect was. Once a fast bowler accepts you, things become easy to handle.

Former England fast bowler Devon Malcolm is one case study, which Greg Chappell would do well to note. He was handled so badly by the England coach Ray Illingworth on the tour of South Africa and later in England that a potential performer was reduced to an average bowler.

Illingworth got the best out of temperamental fast bowler John Snow on the tour of Australia in 1970, but when he applied the same yardstick to Devon Malcolm two decades later, he failed miserably. The only difference was that Illingworth was Snow's captain and to Malcolm, Illingworth was the coach.

When playing against South Australia on the 1970 tour, fast bowler Peter Lever complained to Illingworth on the field about the lethargic approach of John Snow on the boundary line. llingworth writes in his autobiography `Yorkshire and Back', "I called Snow to my room and said `Snowy, if you weren't an intelligent bloke, you would be on a boat home. Because you are intelligent, I am going to talk to you as someone who, I hope, can understand what I am trying to say to you. Other bowlers in the team will say why should we bowl our guts out when Snowy is treating it like a benefit match. If this continues, I am going to have no one trying'."

Both had a chat about the approach and Snow was instrumental in winning the series. In Snow's case, Illingworth never went to the media, but in Malcolm's case he did. "Malcolm has no confidence," is what Illingworth, like Chappell, announced and that was the beginning of the end of Devon Malcolm.

Is this what is happening to young Irfan Pathan? Only Chappell and Chairman of the selection committee Kiran More would know, but there is a feeling that Pathan has not been handled well.

Making him sit with psychologist Rudy Webster for a few sessions is not the solution. The solution is that Chappell and his buddy Frazer should sit and discuss with Javagal Srinath the ways to handle Indian fast bowlers. No matter how talented you are, if your coach has no confidence in you, you can't produce results. And when a coach announces a player's problem publicly, not all Indian players are capable of digesting it.

Indian fast bowlers look for performance-motivation from their colleagues and the team management. Irfan Pathan is no exception. Today he has the right to feel that he does not fit into the team management's scheme of things, and with Zaheer Khan taking more than 50 wickets in less than 10 county matches, Pathan could be thinking of Zaheer Khan replacing him.

It's time the BCCI reviews the roles of support staff. If the problem of getting fast bowlers to bowl effectively still persists, then there should be technically sound and experienced Indian coaches to assist Chappell rather than leaving it to people who are not at all qualified to do the job.

The problem is not in Chappell's and Pathan's professional commitments and good intent, but rather in a conflict of understanding and perception. The problem is nascent right now and could be handled well enough. The solution is clearly apparent unless we conveniently want to ignore it.