Despite being under the weather, all-rounder Irfan Pathan played a lead role in Baroda topping the West Zone leg and qualifying for the All India round of Mushtaq Ali Trophy T20 tournament. He tells G Krishnan that he is happy with his rhythm after coming from an injury lay-off and is confident of staging another comeback to the Indian team. Excerpts:
Looking at your injury-hit career, could you have done things differently to avoid those injuries and stayed in the Indian team?
Overall I am pretty happy the way my career has gone. Obviously, there have been obstacles. You cannot expect a smooth ride in any career. I am satisfied with my statistics, being eighth highest wicket-taker for India in ODIs. Of course, I'd like to better that. I had a six-month layoff and happy with the way things have gone so far. Even though I have fever, I am still playing for Baroda because I want to make sure I keep playing and performing in domestic cricket. It is going to get better. The aim is to come back into the Indian team and I am confident of that.
What is the mindset of someone who has had frequent injuries and trying to stage another return to the national team?
You have to be a tiger. You have to be strong-hearted and that's when you can make a comeback. That's what I keep talking to myself about. That is what the whole family background is about. My parents have taught me to be fearless no matter what obstacles you face. It has never been easy, especially in international cricket. You have to keep fighting. I am still 29. Right now, the No. 1 bowler is 30 – Dale Steyn. I still have a long way to go but age is on my side. I just need to ensure that I stay fit and keep playing matches.
Did being talked about as the next Kapil Dev affect you?
Not really. I have achieved quite a few things, haven't I? If you look at the numbers that I have, I don't think so there was any pressure. Ask any other young bowler if he'd like to take 173 ODI wickets and 100 Test wickets, scoring 1,000-plus runs each in ODIs and Tests, he'd happily take it. People would like to be in my shoes as well. At the same time, I am not done. I still have many things to achieve with my ability and the experience I have. With so many international matches coming up, I want to make sure I am ready for them and want to fulfil my dreams. The only thing that has actually held me back is my own in terms of getting injured. A couple of times I got injured, I was doing really well. Getting man of the match award in Sri Lanka (his final ODI in 2012). The only thing I need to ensure is I keep fighting and stay fit. I have the confidence that I can achieve many more things. There is no stopping me.
After IPL comes the five Test series in England. How keen are you?
If I sleep tonight and wake up tomorrow, I'd love to be in each of those English grounds, bowling there. That's how keen I am. I know I have to be realistic. I need to play play more and more matches, and do really well. There is nothing better than playing for the country. The rush you get playing for India cannot be compared with with anything else. But, there are things I need to do to make sure I keep playing and performing.
Zaheer Khan has always stressed on bowling in matches to be in the rhythm. You also maintain the importance of being in rhythm. How important is it, especially after coming from injury?
There is a huge difference between bowling in matches and in nets. Sometimes, you can have a cushion of bowling no balls in the nets, not so in matches. You realise that after playing 10 games, rhythm bowlers like us will see the pace has increased. Everything is moving nicely because you do things repetitively. No matter how much you work in the nets, things are not the same especially after you come back from an injury lay-off. It is important to play more matches. Hitting the right length in a game and in the nets is a big difference.
Playing at least 14 matches in IPL will help you get rhythm, isn't it?
The best thing I like about IPL is that there are so many matches on a regular basis. There is enough recovery in between matches also. You also are in your rhythm, playing matches regularly and also getting time for recovery. For me it is a perfect thing. When I came out of big lay off, I played nine games (West Zone one-dayers and T20), then I will get to play 14 games. That is the best thing you can get for rhythm. IPL has been a great experience for me.