Irfan Pathan: The Resurgent Sultan of Swing
The moment Irfan Pathan rattled the stumps of Sachithra Senanayake off the final ball of his terrific spell in the 5th ODI at Pallekele, he jumped and pumped his fist in the air with joy. Behind the happiness, a huge sense of relief prevailed; a sense of satisfaction that the hard work had finally paid off as he had played a very important role in helping India win the ODI series by a comprehensive margin of 13 points on the Castrol Index.
The 27-year-old from Baroda, Gujarat was going through the toughest phase of his life. Inconsistent performances coupled with incessant injuries had threatened his cricketing career. Despite decent performances in the tri-nation series in Australia and the Asia Cup, he wasn’t picked in the squad for the Sri Lankan tour. But a last-minute injury to pacer Vinay Kumar meant that Pathan got one more opportunity to impress on the biggest stage. And boy, did he answer his critics in a spectacular manner! A disciplined bowling effort of 2/37, earning him the highest Bowling Efficiency of 161 in the 1st ODI, set the tone for the series. He got the ball to zip through the surface and moved it both ways which bamboozled the Sri Lankan batsmen. He was terrific in the Quick Start Overs picking up crucial wickets. In the six matches on the tour, he picked up the dangerous Tillakaratne Dilshan thrice.
He shone not only with the ball but also with the bat, being involved in two match-winning partnerships at the death. In the 3rd ODI at Colombo, India were in deep trouble at 196/5, chasing a mammoth target of 287. With 91 needed off 11-odd overs, Pathan showed great patience and determination and, along with Suresh Raina, powered India past the finish line with a brisk 34 off 31 balls. He continued his batting heroics in the 5th match at Pallekele as he helped India out of troubled waters with a crucial 77-run stand with skipper MS Dhoni. Later on in the same match, a sumptuous spell of swing bowling saw him rip through the Lankan batting order and pick up five wickets which propelled him to the top of the Castrol Index with 60 points. In doing so, he became the first Indian player to pick up a five-wicket haul in ODIs since Yuvraj Singh did it in the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup against Ireland and the first Indian pacer since Zaheer Khan who scalped 5/42 against the Lankans in 2007.
The beautiful aspect of his bowling was his consistency throughout the match. He scalped Dilshan and Upul Tharanga in the Quick Start Overs and then removed Thisara Perera and Jeewan Mendis, who were threatening to take the match away, in the Extreme Performance Overs. Buoyed by the success in the ODI series, he continued the juggernaut in the one-off T20 international as he scythed through the Lankan top order again and paved the way for a hefty 30-point victory on the Castrol Index with figures of 3/27 which elevated him to the top of the Bowling Efficiency charts, valued at 139.
He has shown great resurgence in the international arena which can be proved from the fact that of the last 6 matches he has played, he has ended up with the top Bowling Efficiency in three of them (161 in 1st ODI, 197 in 5th ODI & 139 in the T20I) which included one Castrol Index-topping performance in the 5th ODI. Consistently topping the Bowling Efficiency charts, while competing with the likes of Lasith Malinga and Zaheer Khan, is a great achievement in itself.
The swing is back, the aggression is back, the consistency is back. Irfan Pathan provides great versatility to the team with his dexterous performances. With a long, tough season ahead and the all-important ICC World Twenty20 championship around the corner, Pathan’s resurrection in the international arena may turn out to be the biggest boon for the Indian team.