"Criticism makes me stronger"

V. GANESAN

"For me rhythm is important, not pace. Please remember I am not a Brett Lee or a Shoaib Akhtar. I can't bowl fast, but I can swing the ball," confides IRFAN PATHAN in a chat with VIJAY LOAKAPALLY.

Photography is his latest passion. "Can you click a picture from this angle? I want to get that boat in the background," says an excited Irfan Pathan. "Quick, it is getting dark," he gets impatient. At Kochi's Taj Malabar, known for its courteous staff, Pathan goes berserk with his camera. "It's a great place," he gushes as he furiously takes a few snaps of the sunset.

At 21, Pathan is a rich investment for Indian cricket. He is considered a potential all-rounder at Test level. And he is working towards attaining that status.

In this interview to Sportstar, he shares his experience of the past season, his highs and lows.

Excerpts:

Question: It is said that you are very good at handling pressure. What is your opinion?

Answer: It is good to have such a reputation. It helps. I think it is inbuilt. It comes from my upbringing. I have had to earn my place through hard work, fight for a good life for my family.

How has your learning period been, the transition from being a little-known cricketer to a huge motivator of youngsters?

I thank Allah for whatever I am today. I can tell people that hard work and honesty pays. I am learning to be a quality cricketer, learning to be a good batsman in addition to sharpening my bowling skills.

Some experts believe that you have lost pace. What are your views on their observations?

It is all rubbish. It is funny that people have to talk when they know little. It is their (experts') view. They like looking at negative things. But I have no complaints against them. I know my limitations. And I know my job. My coach, captain and team-mates believe in my efforts and abilities and I value that immensely.

But have you not lost some pace?

Not really. I started my career at 128-130kmph (in Australia). I was never a quick bowler. For me rhythm is important, not pace. Why don't people realise that I was not a quick bowler when I started? Sometimes, these speed guns can be wrong because I know there has not been any drop in pace. Please remember I am not a Brett Lee or a Shoaib Akhtar. I can't bowl fast, but I can swing the ball.

What in your opinion are your strong points?

I look at the positive things. I swing and put the ball in the right areas. I bowl at 130-132kmph. Last time in Pakistan the pitches were very flat. All bowlers suffered because the conditions were very tough. There was extra load too. The body was getting tired and I was not bowling my natural stuff.

So, how do you intend tackling this problem?

Why should I worry myself? I know my body well. Even great batsmen run into poor form. I know I need to swing the ball to be effective, keep bowling in the normal areas and that is what I always concentrate on. But then people expect too much and make their judgements quickly.

The experts also say that you have a problem with your grip...

Grip? (laughs). No one bothered to discuss my grip when I was doing well. I have not changed my grip. Only these experts have changed their opinion for reasons best known to them. There is nothing wrong with my grip.

Who do you fall back upon in difficult times?

There are many but my brother (Yusuf) is very good. He taught me a few things. He reminded me that I was running in too fast to bowl. I learnt to be aggressive from him. But I can never forget John (Wright). He had a high opinion of me. He was very hard on me sometimes and always said he wanted me to be a very good player.

What about Greg Chappell?

I have not known a person so mentally strong as Chappell. He knows how to handle players and can judge a problem quickly. He told me to ignore all this talk about my grip.

What do you aim at as you prepare to bowl?

Honestly, I aim at winning the match for India. I aim at a quick breakthrough because an early wicket adds to the strength. The team gets pumped up.

How have your first two seasons in international cricket been?

They have been good in terms of learning. Travel has taught me a lot of things. I have learnt to respect people a lot because I know that I would meet them when I come down the ladder. But then I had my injury worries. I was trying hard but I didn't realise that I was not bowling as well as I should have. And then I lost my place, went to England and picked up a few important lessons. At the start of the season, one should bowl a lot to get the rhythm.

What did you learn from your difficult period?

It is important to listen to your body. I have learnt to skip training if the body is tired. Taking rest is very important because I am a human being and not a machine. Even a machine needs rest. One has to have a proper training schedule and time to recover from fatigue. There are times when your mind does not tire, but the body does. If you ignore these aspects and push yourself, you tend to get injured. But I don't put pressure on myself because there are days when you struggle to get wickets despite bowling well.

Do you have a dream?

Of course. I dream of becoming an all-rounder.

What makes you happy?

A win. For me India winning is more important than taking wickets. I am happy when I make runs and take wickets. In this team, we help each other and enjoy a lot. The dressing room is a great place. I value my association with my team-mates and the support staff.

What makes you sad?

Criticisms even after we have tried hard. I don't get worked up when I am hit on the field. I learn from every bad ball. Actually, I just laugh it away. But what saddens me is when people stop supporting us when we are down. That is the time when we need support from our fans.

Are you sensitive to criticism?

Not at all. I understand your job. You praise us when we do well, so you have the right to slam us when we falter. But criticism makes me stronger. It encourages me to do better and prove you wrong (laughs).

Have you felt changes within you following the fame you have attained?

Every person changes with time. I come from a town where people expect too much. Being a celebrity can be tough. I don't have time for myself. I also need my family, friends. When I restrict myself to my family and friends, people feel bad. They say I have changed. But I have not. It is just that I have become protective of my privacy. I want to spend my quality time with people who are close to me. After all, once I stop playing I will go back only to my family and friends.

What is your philosophy in life?

Simple. Don't get worked up from a bad game. Understand your limitations. Just forget it. Look ahead. My request to everyone (fans and critics) is just be patient. I know the passion for cricket in our country and I respect this passion. But please remember that I too have my limitations. At the end of the day cricket is just a game.