Irfan Pathan (Hindi: इरफ़ान पठान, Pashto: عرفان پټان) , born Irfan Khan (Hindi: इरफ़ान ख़ान, Urdu: عرفان خان on October 27, 1984 in Baroda, Gujarat, India) is an Indian cricketer who has been a member of the Indian national cricket team since late 2003. Beginning his career as a left-arm fast-medium swing bowler (evoking comparisons with Pakistan's Wasim Akram), Pathan improved his batting skills to become a bowling allrounder, even opening the batting on occasions. This led to critics comparing him with former Indian allrounder Kapil Dev. The improvement in his batting also coincided in a steady loss of pace and bowling form. After opening both the batting and bowling in late 2005 and early 2006, Pathan was dropped from the team in both Test and One Day International (ODI) forms of the game by the end of 2006 and by 2007 was no longer in the squad. He returned to international cricket in September 2007 for the inaugural World Twenty20, where he took three wickets and was man of the match as India beat Pakistan in the final.
Pathan made his first-class debut in the 2000–01 season, after fellow left-arm paceman Zaheer Khan was selected for the national team, helping Baroda to win the Ranji Trophy. This saw Baroda qualify for the following Irani Trophy, where Pathan's performance reminded V. V. S. Laxman of Zaheer. Pathan further honed his bowling at the MRF Pace Foundation in Chennai, after being referred by Indian selector Kiran More. In early 2002, he was selected for the Under-19 Cricket World Cup in New Zealand, where he took six wickets. In 2003 he was selected for the India A team which travelled to England and played in the domestic Challenger Series.
In late 2003, he was selected for the India Under-19 team to compete in an Asian ODI competition in Pakistan, where he was the leading bowler with 18 wickets. This was more than twice that of the second leading wicket-taker. His bowling average of 7.38 was also the best of the tournament and he was named as the player of the tournament. Pathan was featured on the headlines when he claimed 9/16 against Bangladesh and helped India to emerge victorious over Sri Lanka in the final, taking 3/33. This resulted in him being selected for the Indian national squad for the 2003–04 Border-Gavaskar Trophy series in Australia.
Pathan subsequently led the pace attack again on the 2004 Test tour to Pakistan, taking 12 wickets and bowling a higher proportion of maiden overs than any other bowler to help secure India's first series victory over Pakistan in two decades. He also showed prowess with the bat, scoring 49 in the Second Test in Lahore after a batting collapse of the top order. He also took eight wickets at 17.8 in three ODIs, including three top-order wickets in the deciding fifth ODI in Lahore. His ability to swing the ball both ways and his innings in Lahore lead to speculation that he could become an all rounder. This saw him named as the ICC Emerging Player of the Year at its 2004 Awards ceremony. Pathan continued his productive form in ODIs at the 2004 Asian Cup in Sri Lanka, where he was the leading wicket-taker with 14 wickets at 16.28 with three three-wicket hauls. This continued during India's brief campaign at the 2004 ICC Champions Trophy, where he claimed 5 wickets at an average of 9.
Pathan continued to improve his batting with a defiant 31 and 55 against Australia in October 2004 in Bangalore. This was his first half-century after the specialist batsmen had failed in the First Test. However, his career was put on hold after he suffered a side strain in the following Test in Chennai, causing him to miss the Tests in Nagpur and Mumbai. After being overlooked for the First Test as selectors opted for three spinners, he returned in the Second Test against South Africa in Kolkata, before making his name on the December tour to Bangladesh. Swinging the ball both ways, Pathan took 5/45 and 6/51 including several LBW decisions in the First Test in Dhaka to claim his first ten-wicket haul and his first Test man of the match award as India claimed a commanding innings victory. He followed this with a match haul of 7/118 in the following match in Chittagong to take 18 wickets at 11.88 to be named as man of the series.
In late 2004, the Board of Control for Cricket in India introduced central contracts for international players for the first time, and Pathan was given a B-grade contract. 2005 began rather poorly for Pathan. He took only six wickets at 68.33 in the home Test series against Pakistan after losing pace and accuracy. He was subsequently dropped for the ODI series, playing in only one match in which he conceded 67 runs without success in 8 overs. However, he did manage to post his first ODI half-century, scoring 64. Greg Chappell became the coach of the Indian team following the Pakistan series and subsequently identified Pathan as a potential all-rounder. He started to hone Pathan's batting skills, which had up to this point yielded 275 Test runs at 19.64. Pathan was subsequently signed by Middlesex County Cricket Club for the English country season, where he attempted to regain his form.
Pathan was recalled to the ODI team for the 2005 Indian Oil Cup in Sri Lanka in August. This was Chappell's first series in charge as a coach, in which Pathan played in all matches and took 6 wickets. He showed further signs of returning to peak form in the Videocon Triangular Series in Zimbabwe, taking 10 wickets at 16.1 in four matches as well as scoring a half-century. This included his ODI career best of 5/27 against Zimbabwe in Harare. He was subsequently the leading wicket-taker as India took a 2–0 clean sweep of an away Test series against Zimbabwe. In the First Test in Bulawayo, Pathan took 5/58 and 4/53 as well as scoring 52 in a man of the match performance to help India to an innings victory. He followed this with 7/59 haul, his Test career best, and 5/67 in the final Test in Harare, his second ten-wicket match haul to set up a ten wicket victory. He was again named man of the match, and his 21 wickets at 11.29 runs saw him named man of the series. This made him only the third bowler after Anil Kumble and Johnny Briggs to take 21 wickets in a two-match series.
Upon the team's return to India, Chappell experimented with Pathan by using him as an opening batsman in the Limited Overs Challenger Series prior to the late 2005 series against Sri Lankan cricket team. Pathan was subsequently used at No. 3 in the batting lineup in the First ODI against Sri Lanka in Nagpur, where he scored 83 runs from 70 balls to help India post a total of 6/350. Pathan also took 4/37 and 3/38 in Mohali and Baroda respectively to win two man of the match awards, taking ten wickets at 25.6 for the whole series. Pathan continued his strong ODI form with another man of the match performance of 3/23 and a knock of 37 runs against South Africa in Bangalore. After scoring two consecutive ducks in the Test series against Sri Lanka, Pathan was elevated to opening in the second Test in Delhi, after regular opener Virender Sehwag was down with illness. Pathan scored 93 runs to help set up a winning target. In the following match in Ahmedabad, he scored 82 runs and combined in a century stand with V. V. S. Laxman to revive India after an early batting collapse. He also took seven wickets at an average of 26 runs in the series, which India won 2–0. Pathan later admitted that he had been disappointed in failing to score a Test century. Following his strong performances in 2005, Pathan was promoted in December to an A-grade contract by the Board of Control for Cricket in India.
Pathan had another difficult start to the new year in 2006 on the Test tour to Pakistan. In the first two Test matches played on flat surfaces in Lahore and Faisalabad, he had little success against the Pakistani batsmen, taking a total of two wickets while conceding 319 runs. However, he made use of the good batting conditions himself and scored 90 in a double century partnership with wicket-keeper Mahendra Singh Dhoni in Faisalabad. Pathan found success with the ball in the Third Test in Karachi, where he became the first person to claim a hat-trick in the first over of a Test match and the first Indian to take a hat-trick in an away Test. It was also the highest in terms of total averages of the batsmen dismissed (130.18: Salman Butt 34.27, Younis Khan 46.04, Mohammad Yousuf 49.86). He finished with a haul of 5/61 but was punished in the second innings, taking 1 wicket while conceding 106 runs as Pakistan set a target which was beyond India's reach. Despite his Test travails, Pathan continued to perform strongly in the ODI arena, scoring 65 in the top order in the first ODI against Pakistan in Peshawar before making three consecutive three wicket hauls in the following matches. This included a man of the match performance that included a haul of 3 wickets for 43 runs at Rawalpindi as he claimed nine wickets at 18.88 for the series.
Pathan had a quiet series against England following his return to India, taking 8 wickets at an average of 39.37 runs and scoring 121 runs at an average of 24.2 runs in three Tests. Again his ODI form was unaffected, taking eleven wickets at 15.63, which also included a stacking up 4/51 at Goa and scoring 123 runs with the bat as India easily claimed the series 6–1.
Pathan was initially dropped for the ODI series hosted by India against the West Indies, but was recalled for the final match in his home town after claiming seven wickets against Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy semi-final. His performance was regarded as lacklustre, taking 1/43 from seven overs. The selectors persisted and named him in the squad for the 2007 Cricket World Cup, but injury stopped him from playing in the ODI series against Sri Lanka, denying him an opportunity to regain form.
Pathan did not play a match at the World Cup, and was among a group of players to be dropped from the squad following India's exit from the first round. He played no part in the tours of Bangladesh and England. Instead, he was sent on a India A tour of Africa.
As a result, Pathan was recalled to the ODI team and played in the home series against Australia and Pakistan in late 2007. He played in 12 matches, scoring 131 runs at 18.71 and taking 12 wickets at 46.00, averaging substantially worse than his overall career statistics. With India opting to field two spinners and two pacemen in the home Test series against Pakistan in late 2007, Pathan missed the first two Tests before injury to his colleagues resulted in his recall for the Third Test at Bangalore. Pathan scored his maiden Test century, reaching the mark with a six with only last man Ishant Sharma left to accompany him.
Pathan gained selection for the 2007–08 tour of Australia, but did not play in the first two Tests with only two pacemen chosen. With the Third Test held on the bouncy WACA Ground in Perth, Pathan replaced second spinner Harbhajan Singh. He batted well with scores of 28 and 46 respectively. His second innings performance came as a nightwatchman in order to shield other batsmen from the new ball late in the day. Pathan rediscovered his ability to swing the ball, taking 2/63 and 3/54, including both Australian openers in each innings. He was recognised with the man of the match award.
After his batting displays in Perth, Pathan was promoted to open the batting in the Fourth Test in Adelaide, replacing Wasim Jaffer and thereby allowing Harbhajan to return in a five-bowler attack. In a high-scoring match, Pathan took 3/112, but he struggled with the responsibility of opening, scoring nine and a duck. Following the Test series, he held his place in the ODI team and played all 10 matches in the Commonwealth Bank Trophy, scoring 118 runs at 19.66 and taking 11 wickets at 34.27, including a haul of 4/41 against Australia at Adelaide.
Pathan played in only the Second Test in the March 2007 series against South Africa, with India opting for a four-man attack in the other Tests. Pathan top-scored with 21* in India's first innings of 76 and was again unbeaten in the second innings with 43. However, he failed to take a wicket in an innings defeat and was omitted from the next Test. After the South Africa series, Pathan participated in the 2008 Indian Premier League, taking 15 wickets at 23.33.
Following the IPL, Pathan resumed international duties in the Kitply Cup and the 2008 Asia Cup, scoring a total of 86 runs at 28.66 and taking seven wickets at 51.42.