In a foreword to the eminently readable Coach, Bill Bradley (among other things a Rhodes Scholar, Olympic Gold Medallist, ten year professional with the New York Knicks, US Senator for 22 years and a candidate for Democratic Nomination for President), says ..
Leadership means getting people to think, believe, see, and do what they might not have without you. It means possessing the vision to set the right goal and the decisiveness to do it single-mindedly. It means being aware of the fears and anxieties felt by those you lead even as you urge them to overcome those fears. A great coach embodies these qualities and transforms them into a force that can effect powerful changes in those they lead.
Wonderful. Lets see how this applies to Irfan Pathan.
India of the 21st century is full of amazing success stories built on grit. Not many are like this. Irfan’s first coach, the one that got him through the grind of the u-15s and taught him the basics used to charge Rs 20 per student. 12-13 years ago.
By the time he was 20, Jon Landau’s “I have seen the future of Rock-n-Roll and its name is Bruce Springsteen”, was considered an apt epithet.
In that article are some wonderful nuggets of opinion.
His first coach, Mehndi Sheikh :
Irfan was 12 and so fragile that his deliveries barely reached the other end. “Frustrated batsmen pleaded with me to convert him into a left-arm spinner. My coaching was simple: a wicket at both ends of the square and a handkerchief at the short-of-length spot. Irfan was studious and never complained about the six-hour training regime. It began when the sun was blazing at two in the afternoon and would end at eight in the evening.”
His first Ranji coach Vineet Wadkar :
“During one of the matches in his first season, he started vomiting. Back in the dressing room I told him to take rest, but he said, `Nahin, nahin, sir, I am okay.’ He just rested for an over, went back into the field and took an important wicket. His attitude was tremendous. He filled up the breach created by Zaheer’s absence, which eventually played its part in our winning the title that year.”
During Irfan’s early bowling-spearhead years, Rahul Dravid :
“You only have to look at his batting to understand his attitude. Normally lower-order batsmen come and swing a few. In the nets and in the middle, he is determined to bat well, bat properly.”
Any signs of a shirker?
This was Andrew Leipus on Walk the Talk.
Qn: Who are your favourites in the gym now?
AL: Irfan Pathan is a champion of a kid. And Greg and I find that we actually have to hold him back, he wants to do too much. …Irfan is an amazing find. But keeping him on the park is going to be a mission. Because he is just so keen, that youthful zest…. And he just wants to train and train and train and wants to get better and better and stronger and quicker. And like I said, we have to work out a balance between what he does on the field in terms of volume of workload and what he does off the field. Injuries start occurring once the workload volume increases. So we have to keep a record of how much he is bowling in the nets and at practice and how much he is bowling in matches and how much time there is off between matches and balance that out.
With that kind of work ethic , it wasn’t a surprise that by 2004, Irfan was ICC’s emerging player of the year.
By 2005, he’d taken a hat trick in the first over of a Test Match (Salman Butt, Younis Khan, Mohd Yousuf) – and opened the batting for India in Tests – apart from sundry match winning knocks in ODIs. Akram Plus Plus.
Then things started going wrong.
He came back with a man of the match performance in the Champions Trophy and ostensibly, remained an integral part of the Dravid – Chappell process but the consistency and dependability was gone. “The number of Man-of-the-Matches that Irfan’s won is testimony to the fact that he’s a proven matchwinner for us.” said Dravid. “He takes wickets early, contributes with the bat, is good in the field. I wanted to go with someone who’s capable of doing it for me on the big occasion. It also gave us the opportunity to play the second spinner, which I knew was important in these conditions.”
By the South African tour tho, it all went awry. After getting a 100 and a 40 in a tour game, Irfan was sent back home, to get some “time in the middle” ahead of the World Cup.
Greg Chappell’s interview comes close to accepting some of the blame.
He’s a human being. He’s a 21-year-old who has been asked to do a lot in the last twelve months. We’ve used him as a strike bowler, we’ve used him as a shock batsman. We’ve used him in many different roles….We can break players if we’re not careful. That’s why we have had to pull players out at various stages. With Pathan we recognised that we might do serious damage if we kept pushing him. The short-term damage of leaving him out was much less of a danger than the long-term damage of keeping him in.
Since then, Irfan Pathan’s been selected for the World Cup where he hasnt managed a game and has since been dropped from both the ODI and the Test sides for the “lets see if they have it” Bangladesh tour.
Irfan Pathan is 22 years young.
What went wrong ? How can it be set right ?