`Middlesex has given me back my rhythm'

"I am hoping to do well. Sportsmen can only try, the rest is in the hands of the Almighty. I want to be hundred percent fit. That is a primary factor for success."



IRFAN PATHAN's coach in Middlesex, former England off spinner John Emburey, was impressed with the performances of the 20-year-old Indian during his stint with the county this season. Pathan's problems this English summer had very little to do with cricket — the man who was selected by the ICC as the world's best young cricketer of the year in 2004 does not know to drive and therefore the county could not provide him a car. India's new cricket star, therefore, was often spotted walking the streets of London suburbs, especially those near underground stations. The energetic youngster, who can win a match single-handedly and whom Wasim Akram loves for his ability to swing the ball, utilised the international off-season quite well at Middlesex and its home ground, Lord's. His shoulder is quite okay now, and he made a comeback in the Tri-series one-day tournament in Sri Lanka. Even though he was not at his peak in the Emerald Isle, it was clear that he is well on his way to recapturing the form that made him cricket's hot property last year. Pathan spoke exclusively to The Sportstar.

QUESTION: How are you feeling now? Do you think you are bowling to the best of your abilities?

ANSWER: I am feeling okay. Trying to reach my peak gradually. I'm sure I will reach there as the season progresses. I am running in fine, which is a key factor for any bowler to succeed.

Do you agree that you didn't bowl well against Pakistan at home last season?

Yes, I went through a very lean phase. It happens. I willed myself to try and rectify the mistakes. That is the reason I went to play county cricket. The stint with Middlesex helped me a lot. I needed match practice during the off-season. That's why I decided to play in England. It clicked. Middlesex has given me back my rhythm.

You were welcomed in the Middlesex dressing room nicely. Even coach John Emburey talks about it.

I'm glad about that. All the cricketers, officials and the coach made me feel at home. It is a nice club, with a nice atmosphere. Don't forget that Lord's is the home ground of Middlesex. I had a nice feeling every time I entered through the Grace Gates.

John Emburey was a spinner. How did he help you?

He is a top-class professional. He knows his job well. He didn't have enough time to spend with me because I didn't play there for the full season. Yet he explained to me how to bowl in English conditions. That was a great help. He also stressed the importance of batting. He used to send me to the batting nets. Actually I learnt a lot by playing there.

And you have your new coach Greg Chappell now?

When he was selected as coach, I knew him as a great cricketer and nothing more. His credentials are just awesome, and everybody must accept it. I met him first before I went to Sri Lanka. Mr. Chappell and Mr. Fraser have been working hard to give us the best of suggestions about bowling in the right areas. I'm sure I would be a better bowler by listening to the advice.

Chaminda Vaas said that the pace bowlers should not play county cricket. Do you agree?

I do not want to enter into any controversies. I needed to have match practice to get back my original rhythm before the start of the international season. County cricket has helped me in that. I'm happy. I do not know whether I would have been tired if I had played for a full season. I think there is a lovely system in place for county cricket now even if you are playing only for a month. You can sort out your problems in the match only. I just did that.

Will you go back to play county cricket?

It would depend on many factors. I really don't know what is the schedule for the next year. This year, I was looking for an opportunity to practise during the off-season. The shoulder injury had kept me out of the nets for some time. I wanted to prepare well for the coming season. My contract with Middlesex finished just in time for the national camp in Bangalore.

Were there any offers from any other county?

Yes, there were other offers too. I don't want to name the counties but I signed Middlesex just because it fitted my schedule perfectly. They were looking for an overseas paceman who could also bat and that too for 40 days. And I was available for only the same number of days. It helped me to decide in favour of them.

Your performances were not so good in the recent past...

That's quite possible in cricket. Everybody has to suffer from lack of form some day in his career. In our country, the pressure is more because expectations are higher. That's good for us, youngsters, to motivate ourselves to give our best. But, in cricket, there are some days when you might bowl well and finish without getting any rewards and vice versa. The injury was a major factor too. But, I think I'm now back at my best.

What about your rhythm, so important a factor for any fast bowler?

I'm now fully fit and gradually peaking. The all-important rhythm is back, which is really satisfying.

Did you speak to Wasim Akram?

Yes, I did before I went to England. Wasim bhai has always helped me tremendously. I can never forget those moments when he gave me huge tips during my Test debut in Australia. Those were dream moments. He would explain in a simple way. I remember his directions every moment. I would talk to him again if I get the opportunity. He is really the sultan of swing bowling.

What about the ICC award of the most promising cricketer?

That happened in England last year and it really boosted my confidence. I can never forget the moment when my name was announced. I had to go to the stage to collect the award and I was really proud to represent my country that night. But, every award has an invisible pressure tag with it — to perform well. And just to honour it, I've to continue to perform well. That's my goal now.

What are your expectations for the coming season?

I am hoping to do well. Sportsmen can only try, the rest is in the hands of the Almighty. I want to be hundred percent fit. That is a primary factor for success. I hope to swing the ball nicely right through the season. I have to work hard so that I don't break down physically. That is why I am spending a lot of time in the gymnasium.

Are you aiming to become a full-fledged all-rounder?

John Wright, our previous coach, really pushed me to have extra batting practice. Batting is a bonus. I would like to become a bowling all-rounder. These days lower order batsmen have to contribute with the bat, which helps the team to win on many occasions. I'm just trying to do that.