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Is Pathan the answer to the quest for an all-rounder?

By S. Dinakar

BANGALORE, OCT. 10. His curly hair made a re-appearance as he removed the helmet. Soon the gloves were off, and, as he began the lonely trek to the pavilion, sweat dripping down his forehead, Irfan Pathan winced in disappointment.

He was, in fact, walking back to a resounding ovation from a Sunday audience, and behind him the Australian stand-in captain Adam Gilchrist applauded in a rare gesture of appreciation by an adversary.

The cheers were not just for the manner in which Pathan `walked' after edging Jason Gillespie to Gilchrist in the post lunch session of the fifth day, but also for his guts and gumption amidst the debris of devastation caused by the Aussie surge in the first TVS Cup Test for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.

For Pathan though, a 141-ball 55, dripping with character, was not enough, even if his knock had made a statement on the contribution of some of the specialists. It was evident that he had set his mind on stalking the domain of a special breed — the all-rounders.

In the `Great Indian Search for an all-rounder', he is under sharp focus.

The `all-rounder' is a term that is rather loosely thrown about these days, with some bits and pieces men earning the status for deeds in the less demanding world of the ODIs. The 20-year-old Pathan promises to be different.

Genuine quality

There is genuine quality in his left-arm pace bowling and much application during his stints at the crease, where he does appear to have got his basics right. In troubled times, there is an air of calmness about him.

Entering the middle, with India reeling at 86 for six, Pathan, during his second innings effort here reflected the kind of resilience that is normally not seen in a No. 8 batsman.

Indeed, what shone through more than the runs he made during his maiden Test half-century or his 31in the first innings, was the manner in which the left-hander went about his job, getting right behind the line, not being flustered by the pace and cunning of McGrath & Co., handling Shane Warne's leg-spin with confidence, and importantly, revealing an inclination to build an innings.

Pathan's batting here brought back the rather recent memories of his innings on a green, seaming first day pitch in Lahore earlier this year, when the Pakistani pacemen were rampant.

India was on a rapid downhill spiral at 147 for seven when the Baroda lad provided wonderful support to Yuvraj Singh in a partnership of 117 for the eighth wicket. Pathan's composed and well-constructed 49 was a firm indicator of his ability with the bat.

Sharp contrast

In a desperate situation, he does not tread the path walked by so many other lower-order batsmen, who often take the easy option of slogging their way out of trouble. Pathan's attitude towards batting, symbolised by a steady head and a straight willow, arrives as a sharp contrast.

He is also working on his shortcomings. In Lahore, Shoaib Akhtar opened him up with a wickedly rising delivery in the second innings, but at the Chinnaswamy Stadium, he appeared to handle the short-pitched stuff from the Aussie pacemen much better.

The all-rounder is the one missing link in the Indian team, a loophole that has invariably haunted the side. It is this cricketer who provides the team with the balance and the depth.

Ironically, this is a land where a Vinoo Mankad ran through a side with his tantalising left-arm spin, and then built monuments at the top of the order, where a Kapil Dev swung them out, and then demolished the bowling with booming blows.

Mankad and Kapil are the brightest shining Indian all-rounders, although men like Dattu Phadkar, a batsman of dependable means, and a lively paceman, Salim Durrani, a clean striker of the ball, and a left-arm spinner of natural ability, Ravi Shastri, a batsman of sound temperament, and a steady left-arm spinner, and Manoj Prabhakar, a genuine swing bowler and a dogged batsman who, like Shastri, could adapt to most slots, have left their imprints on Indian cricket.

The chances are that Irfan Pathan could be the next significant all-rounder in Indian cricket.

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