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Why India should pick Irfan Pathan for the ICC World T20

Considering Pathan's performances in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, and India's need for a seaming all-rounder, he should make it to the team.

Often in pursuit of prodigies, India have overlooked the professionals, and Pathan has been a victim of such a policy.

As India barely escaped a series whitewash at the hands of the world champions, all of their laurels and accomplishments earned by the heroics shown in the previous tours to Australia stood neutralised. It should come as a relief, though, that the next marquee ICC tournament would be played within their own realms- one that they are fully aware of, but also the one that their potential opponents have acclimatised to over the past 8 years.

The IPL has done as much for Indian cricket, as it has for other teams and its players to get a proper know-how of the subcontinental conditions. Hence, behind the inevitable cause of cricketing good, the IPL has served as a foil for the home-advantage that India traditionally used to have; hence, the rank-turners put in place to assert the home dominance.

With the M Chinnaswamy Stadium being as much a home for AB de Villiers as it has been for MS Dhoni, it is their relative experience that would make a difference when they face each other, especially in the shortest format of the game.

Much ado about inexperience

It is to this experience that the article wants to draw the attention of its readers. A lot of talk about the relative inexperience of the Indian bowling attack touring Australia is making rounds. That Ishant Sharma, Ravichandran Ashwin and Umesh Yadav were present in the last two Test tours to Australia only substantiates on it with unassailable authority.

Bhuvaneshwar Kumar’s 3-year long international career is another testimony to it. Barinder Sran, the seasoned veteran, is the only capable frontline bowler the team has, and given such a dire state, the attention might be drawn towards someone, who has been sleeping in the cold just outside the dressing room’s doors, with his kit wrapped around him.

Irfan Pathan’s stats of 172 runs and 28 wickets from 24 T20 Internationals speak a bleak picture of what he is capable of bringing to the team, because after all, there isn’t a unit to measure experience.  From the World T20’s point of view, Pathan’s peak form just before the global tournament could be the best thing for India, keeping in mind the unbelievable show being put up by the bowlers of late, and India’s hue and cry about a seaming all-rounder- the pursuit for which might find this writer making a debut for India if he gets a wicket or two playing in the community park just outside his residence.

Pathan: the overlooked veteran

Having said that, it seems that India definitely do not want to look too far in this pursuit. Although, if they afford to take the pains of looking into the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, they would find that the Baroda cricketer happens to be the highest wicket taker with 17 wickets from 10 games with an economy rate of 7.30 and a strike-rate of 12.94.

If they take a little more pain to research their domestic realms a bit further, they would find that Pathan scored 200 runs as well to add to those 17 wickets at an average of 40 and a strike-rate of 152.67. Given India’s frantic search for a finisher, and the under-19 boys being under 19 years of age, these stats should qualify Pathan for the long-vacant No. 7 position in the batting order- a spot that, of late, has been occupied by as many cricketers as there are office bearers in the BCCI.

However, it is one thing to be experienced, and a completely different thing to fit into Ravi Shastri’s cliche of being an impact player. So, an analysis of Pathan’s performances in ICC tournaments would further help his case as a genuine all-rounder in the side.

Big-match performances

He took 10 wickets in 6 matches of the inaugural ICC World T20 2007, including his man of the match performance in the all-important final against Pakistan where he returned with figures of 3/16 in his 4 overs while defending a modest total of 157.

Another 6 wickets in the next two editions of the tournament- in 2009 and 2012 were overshadowed by India’s poor performances in the 2009 edition and the heart-breaking fixture against South Africa in the 2012 edition, where India crashed out despite winning the match.

Before Manish Pandey’s exuberance in the last ODI in Sydney, there was not one innings by an Indian batsman in a finishing role, despite the plethora of centuries garnered by the top three. That in itself speaks about the dearth of lower-order hitters that India faces, and while Hardik Pandya would most probably be playing in the T20I against Australia, one must not forget that he hasn’t played an international fixture till date, let alone a marquee tournament.

The partnership of 59-runs with Yusuf Pathan, in a match-winning effort against Sri Lanka at the R Premadasa Stadium, Colombo in 2009, would still be fresh in a fan’s short-lived memory, wherein Yusuf’s younger brother smashed 33 off 22 with 2 fours and as many sixes, and propelled India to a famous win from 115/7 chasing 172.

Given these stats and the short sample space that the relatively new shortest format of the game provides us with, Pathan’s inclusion must be as obvious as Stuart Binny’s was for the previous World Cup that India played.

IPL feats

If these performances at the topmost level are deemed unsatisfactory, the more satisfactory ones that come from the ‘bread and butter’ tournament for the Indian cricketers- the IPL- should suffice to at least let Pathan peep into the dressing room, if not outrightly break the doors.

In 98 IPL games, Pathan has scored 1128 runs at 22.98 and a strike-rate of 121.08 and has also taken 80 wickets at 32.02 with an economy rate of 7.76. With a much older and probably much wiser Ashish Nehra being picked for Australia on similar grounds, who also played for the same team as Pathan’s last season, the now-suspended Chennai Super Kings, Irfan should only fail to make the cut if the playing XI that takes the field against Australia, leaves Australia as an unassailable side.

That, however, is unlikely to happen, given India’s current predicaments.

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