Irfan Pathan Dropped for the World Cup: Have the Selectors Made a Costly Error?

Vijay MuraliAnalyst IDecember 20, 2010

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - SEPTEMBER 16: Irfan Pathan of India in action against New Zealand at The Wanderers Cricket Ground during The ICC World Twenty20 Championship on September 16, 2007 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Julian Herbert/Getty Images)
Julian Herbert/Getty Images

India's Selectors panel, led by former Indian captain Kris Srikanth, named the 30-man probables list for the 2011 World Cup, which is going to be held on the sub-continent. There were some surprise inclusions like that of Ajinkya Rahane and Wriddhiman Saha, while Robin Uthappa and Irfan Pathan were two of the high-profile exclusions from the squad.

India have had a dearth of all-rounders in the past, which has contributed to the imbalance in the team. The current Indian team has some potential all-rounders in Ravindra Jadeja and Yusuf Pathan. Irfan Pathan was supposed to be India's best all-rounder since the days of Kapil Dev, but he has been rather unfortunate to lose his way and has faded into obscurity in the recent past.

Ravindra Jadeja and Yusuf Pathan are both expected to make the cut for the 15-man squad for the World Cup and the duo will compete for the No. 7 slot in the Indian first team. They both are spinning all-rounders and could be utilised as the fifth bowler.

Jadeja has had his fair share of criticism in the past for not being a good enough batsman at the international level. He was woeful in the T20 World Cup 2009 in England where he was unable to accelerate the scoring rate which ultimately led to the demise of the team in the tournament. He can score quick singles and keep the scoreboard ticking but at No. 7 in sub-continental conditions, it is important to score quickly and Jadeja is not the ideal candidate for that.

Yusuf Pathan has amazing prowess in the field of big hitting, however, he has not had a very successful time for India with the bat. His recent century was one of the best attacking innings in recent history, but he would have to face much stronger bowling attacks than the paltry New Zealand attack. Also, he has a tendency to lose his wicket when the need of the hour is to stick around to rebuild the innings which proved costly in the game against Pakistan in the Champions Trophy 2009, when he had the experienced Rahul Dravid for company.

In my opinion, Irfan Pathan could have provided more options than both of these crickets for Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who has admitted in the past that he would like to have all-rounders in his team. Jadeja's left-arm spin does not provide much variation to Yuvraj Singh's effective left-arm orthodox. Yusuf Pathan has not been economical in the 50-over format at 5.66 runs per over and also does not have a good strike rate.

Pathan emerged on the scene as one of the best fast bowlers that India have ever produced and he justified his tag by performing immensely in the start of his career which included good performances against Australia and Pakistan. With the arrival of Greg Chappell as the coach of the Indian team, Irfan was promoted to the No. 3 slot on a number of occasions to provide a surprise hitting option in the powerplays.

As a result, Pathan's batting improved tremendously and he has a very decent average in both One Day Internationals and Test cricket. His bowling took a turn for the worse as he suffered a hge dip in form. A number of niggles and injuries did not help his cause and he had to eventually lose out on his place in the team. 

He made his comeback in the successful T20 campaign in South Africa where the young brigade led the energetic Dhoni won the World Cup final against Pakistan. He was India's third choice fast bowler behind Sreesanth and R P Singh but he impressed with his pace variations and clever bowling in the shortest official version of the game.

He was awarded the Man of the Final for his excellent performance in the Final where he picked 3 important wickets and it was the beginning of a false dawn for the career of Irfan Pathan. The left-armer was subsequently selected for many One Day tournaments where he was the third/fourth choice seamer and the No. 7 batsman for the team. He was also selected for the tour of Australia in which he turned in a superb performance which helped India win at Perth.

However he was not consistent enough and with the emphasis on T20 cricket through the IPL, his form dipped badly. He has lost his pace and has not produced the swing that he was capable of in the past and as a result was smacked all round the park in the IPL editions of 2009 and 2010 where he was the main bowler for Kings XI Punjab. 

He has performed very decently with the bat and has produced some good knocks in the Ranji trophy and the IPL but as far as his bowling is concerned, he has been a pale shadow of himself. He was recognised as a special talent when he broke into the talent and the selectors, BCCI and more importantly, Dhoni must retain his faith in the lad.

At this juncture, I wish to present you an example of Stuart Broad to illustrate why the BCCI has to shoulder a part of the blame for the dip in form of Irfan Pathan. Broad was hit for six sixes by Yuvraj Singh and it would have destroyed his confidence. The ECB decided to rest him and put him through a intense regime to develop his physical fitness which would enable him to increase his pace and at the same time, develop his bowling without the scrutiny of the media.

The BCCI has left Pathan to rot in the Ranji Trophy where it is very difficult for a swing bowler to capture his best form in conditions which do not favour movement. Pathan could be criticised for not stepping up to perform when given the chance but one must understand that the drop in his confidence is massive and it does take time to get over it.

For the World Cup, Pathan could bowl effective Left arm Medium as the fifth bowler while contributing runs at No. 7. He does not have the ability to excel during the powerplay overs but that is the case with Jadeja and Pathan as well. Also, his sensible batting is what is needed at No. 7 and he does have the ability to change the tempo of the game as well.

In my opinion, Irfan Pathan should have been selected in the 30-man squad to give him an incentive to respond with strong performances which could push him to the doors of selection. However this exclusion is only going to destroy him and this special talent might be one of those cricketers who could not fulfill his potential.