Exclusive Interview: After my family, my fans are my greatest strength says Irfan Pathan: Irfan Pathan has been in terrific form this season. Under his captaincy, Baroda reached the final of the Syed Mushtaq Ali trophy and the captain Pathan put up a stellar all-round performance to make an impression ahead of the 2016 World T20. Irfan Pathan produced one of the best all-round performances by a captain in a T20 series with 200 runs and 17 wickets. On the batting front, he scored 200 runs at an average of 40.00 and @47.50 and a strike rate of 152.67. What”s more, he also enjoyed reasonable success in the Ranji Trophy games, taking 14 wickets in three matches. He has also scored 139 runs at an average of 34.75. Irfan who had a chat with Cricfit spoke about his current form, his fitness and also how much he values the support of his fans.
Q. Irfan I would like to begin by asking you, if you remember your last ODI appearance? And what happened in the match?
Irfan: I remember I took a 5 wicket haul in the ODI against Sri Lanka and got the man of the match. I remained not out scoring 29(28) balls as well. I got the wickets of Tharanga, Dilshan, Jeevan Mendis, Parera and Senanayake. It was a good outing. We won the match, won the series 4-1 and I finished off with the Man of the match award so ya it was a good game for me as well as my team.
Q. Do you feel you have unfinished business left
Irfan: Every player who is left out of the side feels he still has a lot to contribute. I am no different. I don’t want to look back and ponder upon the reasons that led to my exclusion. I only want to perform in all the games that I get to play in. I trust my abilities and want to work hard. Things are shaping up well so ya with god’s grace I can keep improving and bettering my performances. I want to contribute to my team’s cause, that’s my aim.
Q. Irfan Pathan, how has the start of 2016 been for you ?
Irfan: Fantastic. Looks it’s fantastic. Thankful to god. Really happy. I really believe it is going to get even better.
Q. Irfan, I will read out a particular players performance, you need to sum up this performance in one word. Here I go, 17 wickets in a T20 series, he is the highest wicket taker with a 6.85 economy rate. With the bat he averages 47.50 with a healthy strike rate of 154 with the bat. How would you like to sum-up this players performances in one line..
Irfan: (Laughs)… One line? It’s Irfan Pathan. See its been wonderful, taking so many wickets and that too in a winning casuse. At the same time scoring runs at crucial times, taking wickets when you need it the most. It is never easy to do such things in any level of cricket, especially when you know you have to prove you fitness. Not just that, when you have to convince that you are at your best bowling and batting and then do all of it well and come out trumps is immensely satisfying. I am happy because, all my preparation and hardwork has paid off. From fitness to performance, I am very happy with the way things have gone for me this season.
Q. You played only 3 ranji games, but made an impression in the few opportunities you got.
Irfan: Look, playing Ranji Trophy is the most important format for any cricketer’s development. I consider it the real deal to test any player’s fitness and endurance. Playing Ranji was very crucial for me as well. I bowled long spells and these long spells help you find the rhythm and this rhythm tells you how your body is responding. It’s all linked. I bowled 18 overs a day and then the next day I come back to bowl again, the body becomes stronger and once you start bowling stronger, your match fitness shows up. So ya personally for me, it was about bowling and bowling in matches. New ball, old and finding ways to get batsmen out. To sum it up bowling long hours and playing Ranji was the key to my success
Q. How is Irfan Pathan feeling after this t20 performance? Confident? Hopefull? Satisfied?
Irfan: I am feeling very confident about myself as an all-rounder. I have always been a confident individual, but my confidence levels have gone a notch higher with this T20 performance. At the same time I am aware, I need to take one step at a time and go the next level as well. The cricketing season for Baroda is over, but I will be practicing hard and playing as many local matches. I just need to ensure I have the form and momentum with me. I keep talking to myself, and keep telling myself, that I need to get better and need to march ahead with more performances.
Q. Do you always think and dream of a comeback into the Indian side? Wearing the blue jersey?
Irfan: Look, I don’t want to talk too much about my comeback. Whoever plays first class cricket wants to play for India, I am no different. I am really enjoying my cricket. When u enjoy the game, you just want to keep playing and performing. I believe in my abilities as a player for any team and I am confident I will be useful to any team. I am only trying to keep things simple. Keep increasing my fitness levels, keep batting in the middle and bowl as much as possible. I am very positive 2016 will be a great year for me inshallah. I am feeling good about my body, about my game, more important mentally I am more relaxed. It is important to be mentally fit. I am ready for anything at the moment. It’s that phase when I am up for all challenges and very positive about things.
Q. How would you like to describe this season for Irfan Pathan the all-rounder?
Irfan: Well, things have been really good for Irfan Pathan the all-rounder, captain, batsman, bowler. But may I add, I am eager to make it even better
Q. Tell us a little more about Irfan Pathan the captain.
Irfan: I really enjoyed captaining Baroda and taking the responsibility Its in my nature to help and motivate people around me, I like helping other as well. This is something I like to do and so when the opportunity was presented to me, I found the best way to make an impact as a leader. I like motivating others around. I haven’t tasted leadership lot in my life when presented with this opportunity I loved it. It was about sharing my experiences, rally around my players, the youngsters and supporting them. We all start young and value the advise given to us by our seniors, I was only trying to do the same.
Q. How would you like to describe your performance in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy?
Irfan: It’s been good. As a team, we reached the finals. So as captain and a member of the side, it is very satisfying. As a bowler, I did my bit , finished as the highest wicket taker so ya once again a great feeling, since it all came in a winning cause and as a batsman it was good to reinvent myself. I hit 9 sixes, played some crucial knocks and scored close to 200 runs at a strike rate of over 150. Feels nice, since it all helped the team.
Q. In the past you have always spoken about being match fit and bowling lot of overs in the match? What do you have to say now?
Irfan: I really believe when u bowl 20 – 25 over in an innings, that’s when you become match fit. I have done that this season and have done it on different tracks. The Baroda track was different, the valsad track was very different and the UP track was completely different. I bowled very long spells. I remember, in the game against UP I bowled my 3rd spell with the old ball, It can get tough, the muscles get sore, but I had no problems. I completed that task and felt great about my body and fitness. So I feel great about my body. Training in the gym is good but when bowling on different tracks through different spells has convinced me about my fitness levels. This is adding up to my confidence.
Q. Many fans on twitter have repeatedly said, the old Irfan Pathan is back?
Irfan: Ahhh.. Look I really believe people talk about the old Irfan Pathan but that Pathan had little experience, this Irfan Pathan has a lot of experience. Swing, control, length, knowing the pitch. This Irfan is more aware of situations and also knows when to swing the ball when to tray hard and when to bowl within limits. I am more hungry and more determined this time around. Old or new Irfan, there is a lot of fire in me.
Q. You made your debut in 2003-04 at the age of 19, today at the age of 31 in the year 2016 – how you look back at your cricketing journey?
Irfan: It’s been a Fantastic journey. God has been kind. I hardly spoke English. I studied Guajarati. I had only one subject in English. I learnt English playing cricket. My first language will always be Hindi and Gujarati. Because of cricket I have learned life. And in this many years I have create relationships. I Look up to Laxman bhai, Rahul Dravid. I have a great friend in Robin Uthappa. I have created a special association with Sourav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar. Made many friends and learnt so many things. I Saw success, experienced failure. If not for cricket I would not have been where I am today. Cricket is parallel to life, it teaches you everthing.
Q. Did we see a different batsman in Irfan Pathan this time? Different approach? Were you trying to prove to yourself that you can hit the home runs? Usually you have been more of an accumulator in the past this time ur strike was 150 plus with 9 sixes in the tournament?
Irfan: YES, this has been my best strike rate in any t20 tournament for me. This year I wanted to make sure that what I worked on comes through. Last season I was working on my bottom hand and it has paid off since I was able to hit the ball easily. I hit about 4 sixes in my first Ranji games this season. All my hits were going by standing delivering, this only happens when both the hands work together. It took me a lot of hard-work to make this happen. Though, I understand it is not about hitting all the time at no.6 it’s about contributing according to the situation. I remember, against Andhra, we were 45 for 5 and I went into bat. Eventually we won the game and I did not hit a six. I played till the end and we chased it down. It was a difficult pitch. So ya batting is circumstantial, read the situation, adapt around it and bring out your top game. Thankfully, masha Allah both my hands are working together my batting has come good. I have been a top hand player. I used to hit the six with timing. I never used brutal force. But now with both the hands coming together I can clear the fence easily. In the Ranji matches I hit 7 sixes and in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy I hit 9 sixes.
Q. Your bowling – 17 wickets – how satisfied are you with this performance.. You think you have done enough to remind the selectors of ur presence and contribution?
Irfan: Look, I would not like to talk about selection. My job is to perform and I am happy with this performance. I want to keep getting better and keep doing well, See, I’m feeling really confident and happy. Even if someone is scoring a hundred he wants to get better. I am satisfied but not fully content because I want to much more.
Q. Irfan, do you know that your fans love you…
Irfan : (smiles) I love them too. I try and make sure I have a conversation with each one of them. They are more than fans to me. I meet them and greet them. I really enjoy it. All I want to have with my fans is a good conversation. I appreciate their compliments and thank them for all the support. I really value it. I really value their support. After my family, my fans are my biggest strength. Some tweets and Facebook comments are so nice that I feel motivated. Out of the side is usually out of the mind but my fans have not let that happen with me. I am humbled by their gesture. The least I can do is it be communicative and be grateful to the love and support they have showered on me in all these years.